Settling Accounts

Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" (Matthew 18:21)

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.” And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, “Pay back what you owe.” So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, “Have patience with me and I will repay you.” But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, “You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 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 until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart. (Matthew 18:23-35)

“How often” Peter says. He really doesn't get it yet, does he. Jesus just outlined one of the core activities that needs to be taking place among kingdom citizens on an ongoing basis, forgiving instead of holding onto offenses. And then Peter asks how long this should go on before one should give up instead of continuing to forgive.

I find some puzzling aspects to this story that need to be clarified more. Where does the king demanding repayment fit into my current understanding of the gospel?

I prayed about this and asked for enlightenment and this is what came to me almost immediately.

Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made. Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one. Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:19-28)

If the king had not acted the way he did by imposing 'the law' on the debtor, the debtor would never have been given opportunity to realize the enormity of his own debt. But the law, the confrontation needed to expose the extent of his problem, forced the man to cry out for mercy, which is exactly what the king wanted him to do all along.

Why did the man not come to the king long before and ask for help, for mercy, for forgiveness?
Evidently his opinion about the disposition of the king prevented him from doing such a thing.

He was afraid of the king and afraid of what might happen to him if he were ever to be confronted with his debt. And when he was finally brought before the king his fears seem to be confirmed. His false assumptions about the king were verified in his own mind as he heard the sentence being pronounced on him and everything dear to him.

But did that really confirm his internal assumptions about the king that had made him so afraid to come previously? Or was he unwilling to take into account evidences about the king that he had not been willing to consider before? Apparently he believed that the king was a harsh taskmaster like the servant in another parable who buried his money rather than invest it to gain a return.

Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; (Matthew 25:24 NRSV)

These deeply embedded lies about what the king was like served to obscure the fact that rather than carry out the law as expected by everyone involved, the king felt compassion, released him from bondage and forgave him freely of the debt with nothing received to satisfy it.

We see clearly in the following verses that this man refused to believe in the character and the words of the king. Rather he clung to his previous assumptions about the king, that he was harsh, demanding. This man expected the king would sternly execute in full the demands of the law. But interestingly it was the man himself who chose to live under the law trying to fulfill the legal obligations of the law, to perfect his life by attempting to eliminate every sin from his life in a vain attempt to repay his debt.

But his heart only became more hardened by trying to fulfill the law instead of embracing the compassion of the master. By refusing to be won back into trusting fellowship with the king, he chose to remain firmly in legal bondage seeking to do whatever it took to work off his debt rather than embrace forgiveness and grace. But because of this choice his attitudes and opinions about what he believed the king was like translated into the way he spontaneously reacted to offenses and debts that others owed him.

We always act out the character we believe we see in God in the way we treat others around us. By beholding we become changed. When our ideas about how God treats us are darkened with fears of punishment and threats to harm us rather than focusing on His great kindness, mercy, forgiveness and love, it is inevitable that our relationships with others will take on the same hues as our perceptions of God. And while we are certain we know the truth about God and His justice that threatens to put us into prison if we don't meet His demands, we are in fact refusing to see what is right in front of our face, the great compassion, forgiveness and intense desire for opening up intimacy. We become so blinded by our insistent beliefs about God's harshness that we cannot see the truth about His kindness.

Remember, the king started out wishing to settle accounts; not see how many people He could throw into prison.

The only reason he starts out using the legal approach is very possibly because that is where we are to begin with. So he speaks our language, exposes our assumptions about him and thus forces us to face our worst nightmares based on the inflexible demands of the law. It is necessary for this to happen in order to flush fully into the open all the fears and lies hidden deep inside before we can be honest enough to admit our hopeless condition and be prepared to embrace grace when it is exposed to us. It is not that the king did not have compassion before the man pleaded for more time. The king was not changed by the man's pleading, for the man foolishly was pleading for the wrong thing to begin with. Rather, the king was seizing on the slightest excuse to reveal his true feelings and disposition to one who was so deeply deceived about what he was really like. He longed to settle accounts with this man for these 'accounts' stood as an insurmountable obstacle blocking intimacy from every taking place.

The king wanted to put away the debt, not in order to regain riches rightfully belonging to him that had been lost, but in order to have a relationship with someone who didn't appreciate the true desires of the heart of the king for a close friendship. Relationship with this man was far more important to the king than getting repaid the debt for the king knew before he started that repayment was out of the question. He knew that putting the man in prison and selling everything the man owned along with his family would not even touch the surface of a debt worth 150,000 years of wages. The kings did not say these things in order to begin repayment of the debt but as shock treatment to hopefully wake the man up to see that something else had to happen if there was to be any hope for continuing on in life.

The king's confrontation with this man in such a seemingly harsh manner was in no way definitive of the true character of the king or his desires for this man. Rather, his deepest longing was for this man to come to realize the truth about what the king was really like. Like the prodigal son's father, this king longed to have an open, joyful, trusting relationship with this man and his family, not a relationship constantly alienated because of the fears that totally filled this man's mind and emotions every minute of his life. The king knew that this man was going to have a very hard time believing the truth about the king and that simply bringing him in and announcing that he was forgiven would not change anything. So the king went through the motions of legal judgment in the way the man was afraid it might happen in order to soften the man up in order to make him more open to the possibility of forgiveness.

However, one of the key points in this story is that it required a measure of belief on the part of the man for this tactic to accomplish the desired ends. The king could forgive, release and show compassion all he could, but unless the man chose to believe what was clearly in front of his face and embrace it with his heart as it says at the end of this story, nothing the king could do would make a difference relationally between them. As long as the man clung to his false beliefs about the character of the king and insisted that the king only wanted repayment of the debt rather than a relationship based on compassion, trust and forgiveness, the man could not be salvaged – saved.

The man was given opportunity to demonstrate in his life what he had chosen to believe after his encounter with the king's grace. Sadly what became clear was that the man had refused to believe in the good intentions of the king but had chosen to cling to the internal lies about the king's motives and disposition toward him. As a result the whole overture designed to draw this man into closeness to the king failed and the man's harshness against a fellow servant became the very punishment he induced upon himself.

I find it interesting to compare the tactics of the king in this story with the instructions of Jesus previously in this chapter about going privately to one who has sinned and seeking reconciliation. At first glance it seems that this king is not following those instructions. But upon closer examination it appears that there is not a cut and dried formula for how this activity should be carried out on the surface but underneath the same principles are at work.

Different people must sometimes be related to in different ways depending on what their mindset is internally. For some, going to them privately and seeking reconciliation is enough to win them over back into fellowship. But for others who have such deep fears that they won't even allow the one they are afraid of to come near to them, it may be necessary to do things in a different way. But in both instances the attitude of the one seeking to resolve the offense must be the same; one of compassion, love and an intense desire to put away the blocks preventing trust. For a person who only believes in relating to everyone through the legal model, it may require a slightly different method to try to bring them to the same place. But in either case the choice on the part of the alienated person comes down to whether they will choose to believe the radically altered version of the motives of the one approaching them or whether they will cling to their old opinions and refuse to be reconciled.

But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' (Matthew 18:25-26)
So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the LORD had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do!" And Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD. (Exodus 19:7-8)
Then Moses came and recounted to the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!" (Exodus 24:3)
Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!" (Exodus 24:7)

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)

David, Abigail and Naboth as demonstration of intercession and forgiveness.
Abigail represents Christ taking on full responsibility for the sins of Naboth and asking for forgiveness for the violation of a covenant.
When we feel offended by someone's sin against us, Christ has already taken their sins upon Himself and suffered the consequences of those sins. When we refuse to accept His suffering in their place for their sins, we are saying that we will not accept His payment as sufficient for their offenses against us.


Popular posts from this blog

Ohm's Spiritual Law

The Lion's Roar