Reflections on Matthew 18:32-34
'You wicked slave…Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers... Matthew 18:32-34
“No further,” the King commanded.
Last time, he came near. Not now. He barely stood inside the chamber, a great distance from the King. His hands were bound. A rope wrapped tight around his chest. Police encircled him. Thousands inside the chamber stood as the King rose from his throne.
“He believes, your majesty,” said one of the police, “your words are irrevocable. You swore him mercy. You cannot take it away.”
“Is that so?”
The King fixed his eyes on the man and started walking toward him. Halfway there, he stopped and turned toward the crowd. “Did this slave not owe me the greatest of all debts? Did you not see him fall at my feet and beg for mercy? Was I not generous? And if I gave mercy, where is it now? Who stole it from his heart? The kind of mercy I give enters the soul and lives. If it lives in him, he’d have had mercy on the man who begged him for mercy. But he did not. He beat him with rage and violence, and threw him into prison until all is repaid. For this reason, the same will be done to him. The mercy I gave is the mercy I take back.”
The slave’s face turned instantly pale. He opened his mouth to speak.
“Silence!” the King bellowed.
He walked closer, his voice fierce with anger, his gaze piercing. “We shall never speak of you as the man who received the King’s mercy. We will call you what you are -- wicked slave – for wicked is your heart and wicked is your soul.”
He stopped ten feet away.
“Torturers come!” the King thundered again. From behind him emerged a group of men dressed in military uniform from the front of the chamber. “Don’t touch his children or his wife,” the King ordered as they flanked his side. “Nor sell him into slavery. Not this time. This time, he is yours until repayment is made in full.
“Did you hear that, wicked slave? I hand you over to the torturers. The debt – that massive, insurmountable debt you owe me -- has come back on your head. You will never be released from it, or their torture, until you have repaid it all. As you did to your slave, so it is done to you. This is my irrevocable word.”
Swiftly, a black hood covered the man’s face. He was given no time to make a defense. No time to make promises or beg for a second chance. The chamber doors opened. The police stepped back. The torturers seized him.
And he was gone.
* * *
I looked at Ricky and winced.
“Took forever to stop the bleeding,” Ricky said, rubbing a three inch scar on his right brow. We’d been at the diner for nearly an hour when Ricky ordered a burger and fries. I asked for a hunk of bread and a bowl of soup.
“My mom came to see me that night. She’d heard. She saw me all messed up – my right eye throbbing and swollen shut. She got ice and sat with me awhile. I looked her at her and felt this sadness. Why wasn’t I there for her when he beat her? I was out for me. The second I was old enough to leave – I did, not even thinking about her. That night, I did my best to apologize.”
“She said, ‘you’re here now, Ricky. That’s all that matters.’
“I asked, ‘Did he say anything?’
“She nodded and I knew. ‘He doesn’t wanna see me again, does he?’ I asked her. She shook her head and got that look in her eyes like she needed to say something. Real quiet, she said, ‘You can’t change him – but he can change you. Don’t let him. You went that path once. Don’t do it again. You gotta choose to put your eyes on your heavenly Father now. You hear me?’
“It was the best thing she could’ve said.”
“Sounds like she knows,” I interjected.
“She does. I tell you, that woman belongs to Jesus.” Ricky smiled.
I couldn’t help but ask, “Did you ever see your father again?”
“Next time I saw my father, he was stretched out in a casket in front of the church. After he hit me, he told my mother never to speak my name again.”
“Do you think he changed – at the end?”
“You hear how he really died?” he growled. I told him I’d heard he’d died in his sleep. “That’s right. Police reports say he died peacefully at home next to his wife of forty-one years. But that’s not what happened. He died like he lived. The real story is he was friends with the police commissioner and the mayor.”
I looked at him, puzzled.
“He died in the bed of his mistress across town. They covered it up. Then at daddy’s funeral they made him a saint, all the while knowing the truth, playing the game. They made him a hero. You were there, you heard it. They said they’d name a street after him in the city. They promised to start a foundation in his name – the biggest in the city’s history – to give poor kids a shot at the best education. They’re protecting my daddy’s legacy.”
“I didn’t think they could cover up like that,” I said naively.
“They did and, I’m telling you right now, a ton of people know.”
“What about your daughters?”
“Can’t tell you. But they don’t know it from me. I didn’t put in the letter.”
As I sat there trying to take it all in, a memory came back. That night at his dad’s funeral, I was waiting in line to see Ricky when a woman started talking to me. When I told her I was there to see Ricky, she quickly warned, “You be careful of that one.” It feels odd now, knowing the real story. Odder still if I’d answered her, “No, you don’t understand. You need to be careful of his father.”
“Ricky, I’m sorry,” I finally said, “I can’t imagine what this is like for you.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to me. “I didn’t write this for my girls. I wrote it for you.”
As I took it, our food arrived. I asked if I should read it now and he nodded, grabbing the ketchup and squirting some on his plate.
I’m having nightmares.
I see myself standing in a great hall surrounded by thousands of people. I can’t see the Lord from where I am but I know He’s there. It’s the best feeling in the whole world. I’m doing everything I can to get a glimpse of Him when, off to the side, these huge doors open up and my father comes in.
Bound in chains, guards pressing up against him, his pastor’s robe torn and dirty. He’s got this smirk on his face like nothing can touch him.
Then I hear this thunderous sound, “Wicked slave!”
And I know it’s the Lord speaking. I don’t know how I know, but I know. My father reels back like the words hit him. His face goes ashen. The man the world saw in all his glory is gone.
It’s just him now. The man we knew at home.
Once more, I heard the Lord speak, “From this day on, we will call you what you are, wicked slave, for wicked is your heart and wicked is your soul.” My heart starts to pound. I know what’s next but I don’t want to hear it, I don’t want to hear sentence passed on him and, next thing I know, I shoot up in bed.
Awake and scared.