Reflections on Matthew 18:28-31
So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
I wonder how they got access to see the King. As “fellow slaves”, as peers to the man who’d been forgiven, they’d have money. They’d have stature. Perhaps they were nobles. Perhaps they were the kind of people who were invited to sit at the King’s banquet table on occasion and, maybe, that’s how it happened.
“Tell me, nobles and honored ladies, why do you all look so troubled?” The three couples were standing together talking – whispering. The King’s voice startled them as they stepped back and welcomed him into their midst.
“Please, your majesty, we don’t want to concern you.”
“You must, I insist. You all appear terribly sad. Has someone you love died?” Almost in unison, they dropped their heads, not wanting to speak. The King, perceiving their sorrow said calmly, “What can I do to help?”
“We bear sad news today, my lord,” the elder statesman among them replied. “On our way here, passing the city gate, we witnessed a crime of unspeakable violence by a man who is our colleague and friend.”
“You remember a few weeks ago,” the nobleman continued, “you summoned our friend into your chamber. He owed you the greatest debt imaginable. But with no means to repay, you sold him and his family into the bonds of slavery.”
“I remember well.”
“You had compassion on him, my lord. We saw it. We were there.”
“But tonight,” another nobleman reported, “we saw him fighting at the city gate. He was beating a man without mercy. We left our wives and rushed to the scene to see what we could do. By the time we got there, the police had arrived. Our friend was choking the man to death and screaming, ‘Pay back what you owe. You hear me? Pay back what you owe.’ The police intervened and broke it up.”
“The man beaten and bloodied,” the elder statesman continued, “fell down and begged for mercy. He said, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’-- almost identical, my lord, to the words our friend spoke to you. But there was no mercy in his soul. He produced proof of the debt owed him and ordered the police to throw him in jail until everything is repaid.”
“It was not an insignificant debt,” a third nobleman asserted. “For a common worker, he owed four month’s salary. I believe it’s why the police arrested him.”
The King’s face burned hot with anger.
“We went straight to our friend – all three of us – and demanded him to release the prisoner. We pleaded, ‘You can’t do this. As the King showed mercy to you, you must show mercy to him. What will the King do when he hears about this?’
“’The King,’ he said, laughing at us, ‘will never know.’”
With that, the King threw back his head and roared, “Guards!” Seconds later they stood at his side. He quickly dispatched them – for a second time in a month – to the lofty mansion of the man upon whom the King once had shown mercy.
* * *
“Which Dad you wanna talk about?” Ricky said, taking a drink of his Coke. We were back at the same diner and, oddly enough, at the same booth by the window. “The good one or the real one?”
“I’m guessing you didn’t write much about the good one,” I teased.
“Didn’t have to. Esther and Dora know that story. They were the prized granddaughters of the most famous preacher in the city. Because of him, they got on the front cover of the city magazine twice growing up. Yeah, they know the good one alright. I’m betting they know something about the real one too -- they have to – they see it written on the face of their grandmother every day.”
“So you finished the letter?” I asked, pointing to the papers next to him.
“But you finished the section on your father?”
“Yeah,” he said picking it up and handing it to me. I’d told him more than once how impressed I was at the honesty of his writing. I knew he wasn’t focused on trying to win their love. He wanted, more than anything, to break the cycle of betrayal that had plagued the men in his family for generations.
“Mind not reading it yet?” he asked. “Let me tell you about my dad. You saw the mayor at his funeral, right? Police commissioner? State senator? He was a powerful man. All his life he fought for the rights and dignity of every African American. In the same way, he refused to let the government ignore the city’s homeless and poor. If he smelled injustice, he’d get thousands to march on city hall. For him, the least of the least mattered. He was their voice and champion. You mess with him, you mess with God and every politician knew it.”
“That’s the impression I got at his funeral.”
“Outside the home, he was heroic – traveling the world, driving the most expensive cars, wearing the most expensive clothes and jewelry money can buy. He rubbed shoulders with senators and congressmen. He got invited to the Oval Office to meet the President of the United States. My dad had a name. My dad lived like a king. But inside the home? Different story, different man.”
Ricky leaned in, quieting his voice. “I was scared of him growing up. You set him off – you do something wrong, say something wrong – and that was it. He’d beat us, beat us bad. My two brothers, my sister, and my mother.
“When I was fourteen, after my grandmother died, I caught him cheating on my mother -- in his own house. He didn’t know I knew but the next time he went after my mother, I went after him. I pushed him back and told him to leave her alone. I told him I knew about his mistress and all he did was laugh at me. ‘You ain’t nothing but a piece of trash, Ricky. That’s all you are, that’s all you’ll ever be.’ After that, I left home.”
“So, you never saw him again?”
“He never saw me again. I’d come around but it’s like I didn’t exist. Once I started drugging and doing jail time – it was pretty much over anyway.”
“I’m guessing he never stopped his affairs?” I asked.
“Did he keep beating your mom?”
“Yeah, but not with his fists. He couldn’t, he needed her to look good,” he said, reaching for his letter again. “I want you to read the part when I went back to see him after I got saved. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. Inside my heart, I still hated him. I hated what he’d done to our family. I hated the lies, the cheating, the hypocrisy of being one man on the outside and another man on the inside and all the while telling people that Christ has the power to save. But I did it. I went to see him. Start here and see what you think.”
So I did. I sat back and began reading.
I went to church to see him. I’m not sure how it happened but I got to his office door without being noticed. The door was open so I walked in thinking he’d be there – but he wasn’t. His computer was on and there was music playing so I figured he must’ve stepped out for a minute. So I waited.
Made me wonder if I’d been here before. I had no memory of it -- his desk, the chairs and leather sofa. It was all new to me. I found myself staring at an entire wall filled with framed photographs. There he is, in each one, standing with the most famous people in the world – celebrities, world leaders, politicians.
I was nervous before I got there. I wasn’t nervous anymore.
For the first time in my life, I felt compassion in my heart for my father. Not pity, not like I felt sorry for him. I figured if the Lord had forgiven me for what I’d done, He could forgive my father for what he’d done. I wanted him to know that. I wanted him to know I loved him. I’m praying for him.
I forgive him – for everything.
Next thing I know, he’s in the room, slamming the door behind him. As I turn to see him, his face all twisted in anger, I hear a loud, guttural roar. He’s coming at me fast, his right arm cocked back, his fist balled up, and then I feel it slamming against the right side of my face. I went down hard.
By the time I woke up, he was gone.
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