“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
Matthew 18:35 (NIV)
He was a big man. He was not a person I would want angry with me, and he had a natural bent toward anger. As we chatted, he shared stories of just how hot his anger burned and the difficult situations he’d found himself in because of it. He’d been brought up with religion. In fact, there was a lot of religion. From the cradle, he’d been raised with rules, rituals, and regulations out the wazoo, but by his own admission, religion did nothing to curb his anger or modify the spiteful way he treated anyone who crossed him. And his rage led him to some nasty places. Then, through a series of unfortunate events, he found himself in the darkest, seething rage of his life. It was there he met Jesus.
This man came to mind this morning as I read the parable Jesus told His disciples in today’s chapter. If you didn’t read the chapter yourself, I encourage you to take 60 seconds and read it (Matthew 18:23-35). It’s a simple story of a servant who owes the king 10,000 bags of gold. When the king calls the loan, which will bankrupt the servant and ruin his life, the servant pleads for more time to pay it back. The king has compassion and forgives the entire debt. No sooner had this servant left the king’s presence that he runs into a fellow servant that owes him 100 silver coins from a wager they’d made on the Jerusalem Jackals game. The servant chokes his friend, demands payment, and has him tossed into debtor’s prison until he could pay the small sum.
Along my spiritual journey, I’ve both experienced and observed that there are common circumstances in which individuals struggle to actually “forgive those who sin against us” as Jesus famously told us to pray.
I’m simply a religious person going through the ritual motions. This lesson can be applied to so many circumstances, but in this case, it has everything to do with my ability to forgive and withhold judgment. Being a member of a church, or adhering to the tenets of religious rules and rituals only modifies my public behavior. It does nothing to change my heart. I’ve only seen a heart and life transformed and changed when a person has experienced a relationship with Jesus. My religion will never transform my heart and life, but a heart and life transformed by Jesus will definitely transform my religion.
I have no idea how great a debt I owe. If the servant in Jesus’ parable had been ignorant of just how much he owed the king, his behavior toward the fellow servant would not seem like such huge hypocrisy. As humans, I’ve observed that we have a penchant for keeping score with our mental scales. We know we’ve done this bad thing so I’ll throw that on one side of the scales. But, the person who injured me has done this and that so I’ll throw them both on the other side. See that! They’re worse than me so they deserve my wrath! James 2:10 points out that God’s economy doesn’t work like ours. If I keep all the rules and trip up on just one, I stand condemned and guilty of all of it. From God’s perspective, keeping score is a fool’s errand. We’re kidding ourselves to think or believe that we’re “not that bad.”
I haven’t truly experienced the power of grace myself. In the parable, the servant had experienced grace at an unbelievable level. 10,000 bags of gold was an incalculable sum to Jesus’ listeners. It’s like Elon Musk’s net worth in today’s standard. As I just mentioned, in God’s economy we all spiritually owe 100 billion dollars. It’s the contrast between the sum the servant had been forgiven and the paltry pittance the servant was owed that powers the moral of the story. When I know and have experienced how great a debt I’ve been forgiven by Jesus, it transforms the way I perceive and respond to those who offend and injure me.
In the quiet this morning, this brings me back to my big, angry friend. After meeting Jesus amidst his dark, seething rage had shared with me how his life began to change. It transformed his religion, his relationships, and the entire direction of his life. He’s still prone to anger, and he’s still not someone I’d want to see angry, but I wasn’t really worried about it as I listened to his story. After meeting Jesus and experiencing true grace, the fuse on his anger began to grow increasingly longer. The explosions of anger were more tempered, and he began to take responsibility for cleaning up the mess when it occasionally went off.
The words to an old, old hymn have been resonating in me the past month or two:
How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure!
That He would send His only Son,
To make this wretch His treasure.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.