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The parable of the unforgiving servant

Posted in Bible, Parables, Religion on Friday, 15 February 2013

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This edited article about the Bible originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 135 published on 15 August 1964.

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The parable of the unforgiving servant by Clive Uptton

“How many times must I forgive the person who does me an injury?” said Peter one day to Jesus. “Seven times?”

“No, not seven times – seventy times seven,” Jesus replied, meaning, of course, not that a person was to be forgiven 490 times, but that there must be no limit to the readiness of his followers to forgive.

Jesus went on to tell a story about forgiveness. There was, he told his hearers, a certain King who had been very helpful to some of his personal servants. He had made them generous loans for various purposes; one had wanted to buy a house, another wanted to go into business, and among them all the King had laid out a great deal of money.

One day he decided to have a full account made of all that these men owed him, and to ask them to settle their debts. One man in particular worried the King; he had borrowed a thousand pounds, but had never offered to pay any of it back. This was the first man sent for.

He came in very unwillingly, and before the king had so much as a chance to ask a question, burst out with a most pitiful story of his misfortunes. Business was bad. Other people had let him down. Some had cheated him.

“Only give me more time, your majesty,” he pleaded, “and I will pay you every penny, I promise.”

The King was not a harsh man, and after hearing this tale of woe he felt that there was only one thing he could do.

“I can see how you have tried,” he said to the debtor, “but however hard you work I doubt if you could ever pay off what you owe me. So to relieve you, we will forget the debt and make a fresh start. You may go free; the debt is cancelled.”

Scarcely believing his ears, the bewildered debtor stammered out his gratitude, then left the King’s presence as quickly as he could, to tell his family the good news.

On his way home the servant met a very poor neighbour who owed him a few shillings. The memory of his own hard times suddenly came back to him, and seizing the neighbour by the throat he snarled, “What about the money you owe me? Pay it now, or I shall have you arrested.”

The neighbour could not pay. Forgetting the King’s generosity, the servant had the man arrested on the spot and thrown into prison.

The incident, however, came to the King’s ears. Sending again for his servant, he said, “Look, I forgave you all that you owed me. The least you could have done was to forgive your neighbour this trifling sum. Since you have sent him to prison, you shall share the same fate, until your debt to me is also paid.”

When they heard this story no doubt the disciples remembered some of the best known words of Jesus, from the prayer which he had taught them: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us.”

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