What forgiving is and isn’t, part 11

The parable

The last week has been exciting for Brandon and me. We listed our 1967 Airstream on eBay, hoping to send it on to another family and adventure. Why? We didn’t use it anymore since we got our Water Camper—our boat.

Our 1967 Airstream

The selling process had steps. Taking the photos. Writing the ad. Deciding what the initial bid would be—and the reserve price. And deciding when to start the ad. Then came the watching and waiting. That was fun, especially as the bids exceeded our reserve price.

As the bidding approached the end, we started thinking about the transfer process. After we bought the Airstream on eBay 20 years ago, we drove to Stillwater, Oklahoma to pick it up. The sellers were friendly and gracious. They were delightful. So we’ve been thinking about what we want the current buyers to experience when they come to get it from us. What can we do to make it a positive, low-stress experience? Focusing on The Golden Rule will help us to plan well. Later in this post, you’ll read about The Golden Rule, mercy and more.

First, let’s review what we’ve learned so far about What Forgiving Is and Isn’t.

Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning.
Point #2: Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
Point #3: Forgiving is essential for me and my relationships.
Point #4: Forgiving doesn’t mean reconciling.
Point #5: Forgiving is not a transaction.
Point #6: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring wrongdoing.
Point #7: Forgiving doesn’t mean rejecting or sabotaging natural consequences.
Point #8: Forgiving doesn’t mean regaining trust.
Point #9: Forgiving doesn’t automatically reestablish a previous relationship.
Point #10: Forgiving is a gift that I give to myself most of all.
Point #11: Forgiving is a boundary issue.
Point #12: Forgiving is an essential step of The Healing Journey.
Point #13: Forgiving is a choice.
Point #14: Forgiving is chosen freely.
Point #15: Forgiving is the breaking of an unholy tie or bond.
Point #16: Forgiving is a display of grace.

Today we’ll dig into a parable that Jesus told. We’ll find two more points about What Forgiving Is and Isn’t in The Parable of The Unforgiving Servant.

The parable, part 1
Here’s the first part:

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Until seven times?”

Jesus said to him, “I don’t tell you until seven times, but, until seventy times seven. Therefore the Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king, who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. When he had begun to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But because he couldn’t pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, with his wife, his children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will repay you all!’ The lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him and forgave him the debt.
Matthew 18:21-27, World English Bible

What the servant owed his king
A servant owed his master 10,000 talents. What is a talent? In Jesus’ day, one talent was worth about 20 years’ wages for a laborer. That’s almost impossible to fathom. This servant owed his lord an incomprehensibly-vast, unpayable debt. While scholars differ on their estimate in modern dollars, we’re talking about billions of dollars owed.

How could a servant “acquire” such a debt to his master—his king? By daily, habitual, chronic, premeditated, flagrant embezzlement on a massive scale. This level of embezzlement required accomplices and hidden places to pull it off. The secretary. The office manager. The hidden safe. The money-laundering accountant. The travel agent. The private jet. The lawyer. The vacation homes. The various banks who hid the money. That sounds like the mafia, doesn’t it? An accomplished crime boss.

Option 1
The king’s initial reaction to the servant’s embezzlement is to have the servant, his wife and their children sold into slavery, plus selling all of their belongings, to pay back part of the debt. In other words, “Not only will you pay dearly for what you have done, but the rest of your family will pay too—in exactly the same way.” You may be thinking, How unbelievably unfair! Why would a good king even suggest such a thing? But remember this. The servant’s wife and children lived in the lap of luxury for decades because of the servant’s embezzlement. The lavish surroundings and vacations. The mansion filled with servants. The fancy clothes. The jewelry. The elite teachers who came to their estate to instruct their children. A horse for their son’s birthday. The wine cellar. The parties. The very best that money—I mean someone else’s money—could buy.

Family affair
Everyone in the family was stealing from the king. And they knew it. They knew it every day and they didn’t confess it or try to make things right. They just figured that the king was too busy and too rich to look into what was obviously going on. They’d gotten away with it for decades, so they mistakenly believed that they’d never be called into the presence of the king to give an account—to acknowledge what they owed him, what they stole from him.

You and me
Here’s the reality. Jesus told this story about you and about me. Which begs some reflection and the answers to some serious questions.

Accomplices and victims
Let’s look at our own accomplices and victims. We like to lie to ourselves and pretend that our sin only harms us. Words. Attitudes. Silence. Habits. Outbursts. Spending. Behavior. Facial expressions. How I spend my time. Distractions. Weaknesses. Temptations. My thoughts. What I do when I’m stressed. What I put in my mouth. What I put in my mind/thoughts. And what comes out of my mouth.

The questions
Close your eyes and reflect on these serious questions. Who am I, really? Lord, show me who I’m impacting and how I’m impacting them. How has my sin affected other people? Who have I corrupted and/or failed to protect by my silence, my fear, my laziness, my selfishness, my pride and by my words and actions? How has my sin affected other people? What is God calling me to do today to change myself and my impact? What do I need to change? It’s time for me to pray to God and ask for his help. I must go deeper.

What Jesus shows us
Jesus teaches us many things in this first part of the parable: (1) The immensity of our own sin, (2) that we could never—not in 1,000 lifetimes—repay our debt to our King, (3) our sin’s impact on others, (4) our misperception and minimizing of our crimes against God—our own unholiness/sinfulness, (5) our lies (“I will repay you all”) and our insistence that we can take care of the problem ourselves, (6) the compassion that fueled the King’s mercy, and (7) the incomprehensible enormity of God’s forgiveness of us, and much more.

This bring us to Point #17: Forgiving is an act of mercy.

Point #17: Forgiving is an act of mercy.
The word mercy frequently gets paired with the word grace, kind of like peanut butter and jelly. People can get these concepts mixed up. Similar to the reality that peanut butter is not jelly, mercy is not grace.

Removed—punishment and fear
Last time on Choosing Peace, we learned that grace means favor and goodwill—generosity and kindness. Mercy has several definitions. The type of mercy that we’re digging into today is about being pardoned for wrongdoing, for sin, for committing a crime. It means that the punishment we deserve is removed. A heavy weight—our rightful punishment—is taken off of us. When God forgives us, he also removes our fear of our rightful punishment—if we believe him.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1, New Heart English Bible

For more truths from the powerhouse chapter of the Bible—Romans 8—listen to this outstanding sermon series: “eight” by JR Vassar.

The compassionate pardon
I think of grace as a gift and I think of mercy as compassion or a compassionate pardon. In part 1 of the parable, the king gave the accomplished crime boss an overwhelmingly-compassionate pardon. Jesus did—and continues to do—the same for me. He pardons me. A pardon for crimes that I committed. I wasn’t falsely accused. I did it. I did it. Or I failed to do the right thing. The courageous thing. The godly thing.

Finding mercy
The word mercy can be found 157 times in the Bible (ESV). We find mercy for the first time in Genesis—in the powerful, revealing story of Joseph and his brothers.

The psalms
We find the first use of the word mercy in the book of Psalms in the beautiful, famous 23rd Psalm, written by David, a man after God’s own heart. We find it again in Psalm 51, as David cries out to God for mercy after his sexual sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband. An insightful lady told me earlier this year that the story of David and Bathsheba is A Man’s Story of Abortion. Sexual sin. Pregnancy. Murder. Now that is thought-provoking, to say the least.

Here are some other Psalms that speak of God’s mercy: Psalm 103—Bless the Lord, O My Soul; Psalm 116—I Love the Lord; Psalm 123—Our Eyes Look to the Lord Our God; Psalm 130—My Soul Waits for the Lord; Psalm 142—You Are My Refuge; and more.

The proverb, the prophecy and straight from Jesus
Solomon, one of the sons of David and Bathsheba, wrote this proverb.

He who conceals his sins doesn’t prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

Proverbs 28:13, New Heart English Bible

This verse in Zechariah—the last verse in the Old Testament that speaks of mercy—foretells Jesus’ death.

We find mercy used for the first time in the New Testament in The Beatitudes that Jesus taught to his disciples:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.
Matthew 5:7, New Heart English Bible

A response to mercy
When we receive mercy—a compassionate pardon—we respond with overwhelming relief. Ahhhhh.

Several examples from my life come to mind. When my older sister Linda turned 40, I sent her a letter of apology for having been a less-than-stellar, less-than-sensitive, less-than-compassionate sister. And she showed me mercy. What a relief. I felt better sending the apology and I felt even more better—excuse the bad grammar—after receiving her mercy and forgiveness. Happy sigh.

Can you think of a time when someone (other than God) showed you mercy? Maybe it’s a good time for some reflecting in your journal.

The golden rule
One of the most universally-taught biblical principles is The Golden Rule.

Therefore whatever you desire for people to do to you, so also you should do to them….
Matthew 7:12a, New Heart English Bible

Theoretically, we’re big fans of The Golden Rule. When it comes to forgiving and mercy, we really like being on the receiving end. But we don’t always like being on the giving end. Today’s parable paints this reality vividly.

The parable, part 2
Let’s move on to the second half of our parable. The Parable of The Unforgiving Servant shifts quickly. Immediately after the crime boss receives the king’s compassionate pardon, check out what he does.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundred denarii, and he grabbed him and took him by the throat, saying, ‘Pay me what you owe!’

“So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you!’ He would not, but went and cast him into prison until he should pay back that which was due. So when his fellow servants saw what was done, they were exceedingly sorry, and came and told their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him in and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, even as I had mercy on you?’ His lord was angry, and delivered him to the tormentors until he should pay all that was due to him. So my heavenly Father will also do to you, if you don’t each forgive your brother from your hearts for his misdeeds.”
Matthew 18:28-35, World English Bible

This leads us to Point #18: Forgiving isn’t a tool for control.

Point #18: Forgiving isn’t a tool for control.
In other words, when I’ve received forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ, God’s forgiveness doesn’t empower me to punish and/or control others with my unforgiveness.

Let’s get the context right. The crime boss stole billions of dollars from his king. A fellow servant owed him 100 denarii. How much is that? A skilled laborer in those days, who worked 10 hours per day, earned one denarius per day. In a quick Google search, I found estimates of today’s equivalence that varied widely—between $7,250 and $20,000. Not very conclusive. Even if we gravitate to the higher valuation, the difference between, say, $2 billion and $20,000 is a lot of zeros: $2,000,000,000 vs. $20,000. The crime boss owed the king 100,000 times more than his fellow servant owed him—the crime boss—The Unforgiving Servant in our parable.

From denial to truth
I’ve heard and read this parable a number of times. My thoughts used to float in The Sea of Denial, a la… This parable doesn’t really apply to me. I’m one of the good guys. Besides, I don’t owe anybody that kind of money/debt. Right. Obviously, I didn’t really want to dig into it. That might make me uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.

Let’s cut to the chase. Every single time that I refuse to forgive someone, whether it’s for an hour or for a long time, I am The Unforgiving Servant—the crime boss who grabs someone else around the neck and throws him or her into prison. That’s me. Ugh.

Skipping forgiving and grabbing revenge
This tendency reminds me of Point #11: Forgiving is a boundary issue.

From part 7:

Here’s another boundary issue in The Forgiving Department. We often try to take God’s responsibility away from him. Yowza. What do I mean? We want to skip the forgiving part and jump right to the revenge part.

Judge, jury and executioner
We want to be the judge, jury and executioner for The Guilty Party. In other words, we want to dish out the punishment, the retaliation—and how about a little humiliation for good measure. We have some very specific ideas about how that punishment should look. Fire, flood, blood, gore. Or sometimes a payback scenario: “You did it to me. I want someone to do the same thing to you—times 10.” We’re more than happy to tell God how he needs to punish them. And when. And, in case he’s been really busy, a reminder of why. I am guilty as charged on that one.

Lingering in the wrong place
Point #18—Forgiving isn’t a tool for control—reminds me of many of the issues we explored in part 9, when we dug into Point #15: Forgiving is the breaking of an unholy tie or bond. Remember these three key truths from that post: (1) Unforgiveness is a heavy chain—a spiritual darkness—that we carry, (2) walking toward the pain of the past instead of walking away from it, and (3) it sets our hearts and minds on Punishing Mode. See part 9 for much more.

When we’re lingering in A Season of Unforgiveness, we appoint ourselves to this position: The Rightful Punisher. (1) We ignore the crime boss realities of our own sin, (2) we pridefully elevate ourselves above The Guilty Party, and (3) we usurp God’s authority. Three strikes. We’re out. (Translation: I/we need to stop doing that.)

MLB and virtues
Speaking of three strikes, may I mention an itty-bitty post-COVID-19 wish? I would sure like to go to a Major League Baseball game. A hotdog with mustard (and relish), peanuts, one of those lemon icy things, singing “Take Me Out to The Ball Game,” doing The Wave and watching some good-ol‘ American baseball. Mm-mmm good.

Patience is a virtue.

So is forgiving.

Coming next: The next post—part 12—will be the final part of this bigger-than-I-could’ve-ever-imagined post. Thanks be to God for all that he’s taught me. We’ll be exploring the last two points about What Forgiving Is and Isn’t. You’ll read about a beautiful window and much more. Until then, thanks for reading and for Choosing Peace. 

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: 1 Peter 2:9-10

Song for Healing: “Lord, Have Mercy” by Sovereign Grace

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