The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant is a parable told by Jesus, found in Matthew 18:21-35. Here is an explanation of the parable:
The parable begins with Peter asking Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him—specifically suggesting if forgiving someone up to seven times is sufficient. Jesus responds by saying that not just seven times, but seventy-seven times (or seventy times seven) is the measure of forgiveness that should be extended.
To illustrate his point, Jesus tells the parable of a servant who owed an enormous debt to his master—ten thousand talents. In biblical times, this was an astronomical sum, far beyond what the servant could ever repay. The master, moved with compassion, decides to forgive the servant’s debt entirely and cancels it.
However, as the forgiven servant leaves, he encounters a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller debt—a hundred denarii. Instead of showing the same mercy he had received, the forgiven servant grabs his fellow servant by the throat and demands immediate payment. The fellow servant pleads for patience and promises to repay, but the forgiven servant refuses and has him thrown into prison until the debt is paid.
Other servants witness this injustice and report it to the master. The master, angered by the servant’s lack of mercy after being forgiven such a massive debt, calls him back and confronts him. The master reprimands him, saying that he should have shown the same mercy that was shown to him. As a result, the master hands the unforgiving servant over to the jailers to be tortured until he can repay his original debt.
The central lesson of the parable is the importance of forgiveness. The servant’s enormous debt represents the sins we owe to God, which we can never repay on our own. God, in His mercy, forgives us completely through His grace. The fellow servant’s debt represents the offenses committed against us by others. In light of the immeasurable forgiveness we have received, Jesus teaches that we should also extend forgiveness and mercy to others.
The parable underscores the gravity of unforgiveness and the hypocrisy of receiving forgiveness while refusing to forgive others. Jesus emphasizes that the forgiveness we extend to others is a reflection of the forgiveness we have received from God. He concludes the parable by warning that if we do not forgive others from our hearts, we will not receive forgiveness from God.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant serves as a powerful reminder of the transformative power of forgiveness and the importance of extending grace and mercy to others, just as we have received them from God. It challenges us to examine our hearts and cultivate a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation in our relationships.