Reflections on Matthew 18:27
And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
“Tell us what happened?” a reporter asks on the steps of the King’s palace.
A man says, “I wasn’t in the King’s chamber. I was standing outside when we suddenly heard a burst of applause followed by shouts and singing. When the doors finally opened, people were saying, ‘The King showed mercy to a man who owed a huge debt!” I know nothing more. I never heard the man’s story.”
“I did,” another said in anger. “This guy owed the King more money than what our country makes in fifty years. 1 He begged the King for time to pay it back. Can you imagine that? And get this, the King granted his request. It’s not fair.”
“Why wasn’t it fair?” the reporter pressed.
“If you ask me, the King should’ve put country first. We can’t afford not to have that money and have it now.” One of the King’s policemen standing in earshot shook his head and said, “That’s not what happened. Don’t listen to him.”
“Were you there?”
“Only a few feet away.”
“What did you see?”
“Like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Usually when the King renders judgment, we remove the person from the chamber. But this time he made us step back. He wanted to hear what the man had to say. I saw compassion in the King’s eyes, a tenderness like a father would have for his own child. Even then, I thought he’d order us to take him away. But instead, he bent down…”
“The King bent down?” the reporter reacted.
“Yes, and gently lifted his head. The poor man was scared to death, afraid to even open his eyes. The King then spoke, barely above a whisper, and said, ‘I will not grant your request. Do you hear me?’ The man nodded, still refusing to look at him. ‘Instead, I will do more than you can ever imagine. Today, in your hearing, I release you from everything you owe me. Do you understand?’”
“Those of us who heard the King gasped. We couldn’t believe it. We saw the man open his eyes, bloodshot and red, and whisper back, “What was that?”
“’I forgive it all,’ the King said. ‘Now go, pay what you owe others. Show them the kindness I have shown you and from now on, do what is right by me.’ The King then tried to help the man up but he couldn’t stand. He collapsed again, crying with all his might. Somebody behind me then shouted, ‘The King has forgiven him! He has shown mercy!” and the whole place erupted in applause and song.”
The policeman said it again, loud and strong, “The King has shown mercy!” and everybody – well, nearly everybody – gave a rousing cheer and started to sing:
“He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.” 2
* * *
Later that night, I picked up Ricky’s letter and kept reading.
A few months passed. I still hadn’t figured out what the pastor was saying. I kept working myself to the bone – at the job, at church. I was happy most of the time but, if I were to be honest, I missed you both more than I can say. I kept praying, “Lord, be with my daughters. Don’t let what I’ve done get in their way.”
One Saturday afternoon, I was in the church yard cleaning up when the pastor walked over and said, “Still haven’t figured it out yet, have you Ricky?”
I didn’t know what to tell him.
“You got it, you know you got it, but you won’t receive it. Now tell me why?”
“Pastor, I’m doing what I can,” I said, upset. “I don’t know what else to do.”
“You tell me you’re saved, is that right?” he shot back.
“Well, what do you think that means, Ricky?”
“It means Jesus saved me. I’m a different man. I’m not like what I was.”
“Saved you from what?”
“Saved me from my sins.”
“Is that right, Ricky? He saved you from your sins – you mean all of them?”
“Well then, receive it. When Jesus died on that cross, He took away your sin. He took away the guilt of your sin. He took away the power of your sin. He took it all, you hearing me? You gotta stop paying back what He already paid. If you’re forgiven by Jesus, be forgiven, live forgiven. Something’s gotta change, Ricky.”
I stood there, shaking my head. “How am I supposed to do that?”
“Ask Him. Let the Holy Spirit do His work in you and when He does, receive it.”
“Pastor, I’m gonna live with the guilt of what I’ve done all my life. You know that. You know there’s no getting around it. I can’t take back what I’ve done.”
“Well, I’ve got news for you. Best news you’ll ever hear. It’s over, Ricky. Now you gotta listen to what I’m telling you, IT’S OVER!”
When I heard those words, “It’s over,” I finally got what the pastor was saying. I was doing what I was doing because of the guilt I felt for all I’ve done to mess up. So I got down on my knees and asked the pastor to pray for me. I asked the Lord to forgive me. I didn’t mean to insult Him by doing what He’d already done. Now, it didn’t happen right away. It took some time. But there came a day, just like the pastor said, when I knew in my heart it was over. The Lord took away my guilt. It was gone and I could feel it. I went to my pastor and told him everything.
You know what he did? He hugged me so hard I could barely breathe!
“So what do I do now?” I asked him.
“Same thing you were doing before.”
I looked at him funny. I didn’t understand.
“You did what you did out of guilt. Now go do what the Lord calls you to do out of love. He showed you mercy, go show mercy. He showed you kindness, go be kind. He showed you blessing, now go be a blessing. Give what He gave you and never stop because, thank You Jesus, it’s paid! It’s all paid! We get to love as we’ve been loved. We get to forgive like we’ve been forgiven. You’re free Ricky, I mean, free!”
And I was. I knew it.
So I started asking the Lord what He wanted me to do. Where do I start? He put on my heart the widow of the man I killed. I started praying for her like never before. One thing led to another and I learned she was attending a Pentecostal church across town. So I decided to go meet her pastor. I just walked into the church one day. I was told I could see him if I came back later that afternoon.
So I did. I met with him. I told him my story. Every bit of it. I told him I’d come to see if there was anything I could do for her.
“You’ve already done it,” he assured me.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“By coming to see me.”
“I’ll tell her you came by and asked for her. I’ll also tell her what Jesus Christ has done for you. She’ll want to know that. I think she thinks you’re still in prison. It’ll be hard for her to hear that you’re not. But when she comes to terms with that news, I think she’ll be glad to know the man who murdered her husband isn’t out there murdering others. He’s walking with the Lord now.”
“Will you tell her, ‘I’m sorry,’ and I’m praying for her and her family?”
The pastor nodded and asked me, “So what’s next for you?”
I told him I didn’t know.
“Well, if you want some advice, I’d tell you to get right with your own family first, Ricky. You know what I’m talking about.”
And I did. It’s the one thing I swore I’d never do. But what choice did I have now? If the Lord showed me mercy like He showed me mercy, I knew He’d help me show mercy to the man I hated most in life.
“Yeah, you’re talking about my dad.”
1 Again in France’s commentary on Matthew, he records that the ancient historian Josephus reported “the total annual tax income from the whole of Galilee and Perea in 4 B.C. was only two hundred talents.” At this rate, it would take fifty years to raise the ten thousand talents. (see p.706 note 22.)
2 The whole of Psalm 103, but in particular verses 8-14, sing the song of the Lord’s kindness (His mercy and steadfast love) which celebrate His love and forgiveness to us who in no way deserve it. Such grace! Such kindness beyond imagining! For more reflection on the glories of this grace, see Ephesians 1:3-14.
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