“Out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.” Matthew 18:18
The response to Covid-19 has meant schools having staggered timetables, different groups of students arriving at different times in the morning and leaving at different times in the afternoon. So it was that it was after four o’clock before the lessons ended on Friday afternoon.
It had been a long week and many of the students seemed tired and stressed. At four o’clock, I asked them to put down their pens and just to talk about what they believed about good and evil and whether they believed in forgiveness.
The question brought forth strong opinions. Boys spoke about how they might be involved in a fierce fight, but five minutes later be the best of friends with the person with whom they fought. They believed girls more likely to hold grudges and to remain bitter for a long time after being hurt. It was a small class, only three female students, but all three present agreed that a row between girls was likely to endure for a long time to come.
Forgiveness was something about which they were uncertain. They were uncertain if they would be forgiven for something they had done wrong. They declared that they were unlikely to forgive someone who had done something wrong to them.
The parable of the unforgiving servant would have baffled them. The response from the class would probably have been to ask why anyone would forgive someone who owed them so much. Equally, they would feel that if the person had been foolish enough to forgive them such a huge amount, that wouldn’t mean that they wouldn’t go after someone who owed them something.
The attitudes of the Year 10 class are probably not so far from those of most Christians. People might talk about grace, but few actually practice it.
The parable explains the immense generosity of God’s forgiveness. In the parable, the sum of money the servant is given is fifty thousand times greater than the sum of money he pursues. God’s forgiveness is infinitely greater than the forgiveness shown by humans.
Christians seem content to ignore the parable. Their faith becomes one of religious observance rather than one of a life filled with grace. People will declare themselves to be Christian, but will be no more prepared to show any forgiveness than were the Year 10 students.
The sting in the tail of the parable is that those who are not prepared to forgive are not forgiven themselves. God turns against the unforgiving servant. It is a worrying image for anyone who claims to be Christian.