March 17, 2020 (Tuesday) - Tortured! - A Reflection on Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Let me tell you a parable. There was once a very evil creature. He had millions of slaves whom he forced to do his every bidding. Sadistic and manipulative, he took immense pleasure in tormenting them. He messed with their heads, he broke their hearts, he mangled their lives. The slaves were doomed, until one day a savior appeared on the horizon. He went to this evil creature and told him to set the slaves free.

The vile creature chortled. “They can have their freedom if you pay the price”. “What is the price?”, the savior asked him. “Every drop of your blood,” the creature answered. “Deal,” said the savior. And he paid the price. Well, I think you can figure out the parable. We were all slaves to the devil and in slavery to sin. God forgave us our debt, setting us free, but it cost Jesus every drop of his blood to accomplish that.

Now, having forgiven us for our sins, he now asks us to forgive others their sins — these are all the things that people have done to hurt us or cause us pain. Oh, and in some cases this pain is terrible. But it doesn’t compare to the pain that we have caused our Lord — and continue to cause — constantly. But he has mercy on us, no? And he only asks that we show mercy to others in turn. And most of the time we say: “no: we can’t”, or “no, we won’t”.

And, like the man in today’s story, we don’t forgive others their debts despite having our own debts forgiven. Consequently, like this man’s lord hands him over to the jailers to be tortured until he pays back his entire debt, our Lord tells us that we will be handed over to the creature to be tortured until we pay back our own debt. Now, it might seem like the Lord does this to us, but in truth, we do this to ourselves. Let me explain.

A few years ago I was in London. I met a man there who was in bad shape. His family had left him. His business had collapsed. His health was so bad he was dying. A few minutes into the conversation I realized he had a lot of unforgiveness in him: against everybody from his parents to the next door neighbor. I told him that if he forgave them God would restore everything because I had seen the truth of this in my own life. He said, “I don’t care if I die, I won’t forgive them.”

You see, he’d rather die than forgive. And die painfully at that. Ah well, the torturer continues to have his day. Is that what you want for yourself?