Matthew 18:21-35 – The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant


Matthew 18:21-35


Jesus makes the point directly and with the negative example of a parable that the exercise of forgiveness in the disciple community is to be extravagant and without limits.


The point about the exercise of forgiving in the disciple community is underscored by Peter’s question and Jesus’ parable about the unforgiving servant. When Peter’s “as many as seven times” would seek to apply limits to forgiveness, Jesus’ “seventy-seven times” implies that there is no limit to the community’s exercise of forgiveness on behalf of rescuing or preserving its erring members. The members of this community are not to be calculators, but ones open to the power available to faithful disciples.

The point is sealed by the negative example of Matthew’s unique parable of the unforgiving servant. A servant whose master forgives his enormous debt refuses to forgive the comparatively paltry debt of his fellow servant, thus failing to imitate the generous “mercy” of the master. The parable concludes with a warning regarding the reciprocal exercise of forgiveness that intentionally recalls the language of the Lord’s Prayer in the Sermon on the Mount: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (6:12).