One of the hardest parables of Jesus’, one of the most frightening for me, is the parable of the unmerciful servant. In it, Jesus tells the tale of a servant who is forgiven an overwhelming debt—something like 200,000 years’ wages— but refuses to forgive a comparable pittance owed to him by another. Instead, he threw the debtor in jail. But when the master heard about it, he said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Shouldn’t you also have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” Then he “handed him over to the jailers to be tortured until he could pay everything that was owed” (Matthew 18:32–34, CSB).
After this, Jesus said these terrifying words, “So also my heavenly Father will do to you unless every one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart” (35).
This is one of those notoriously difficult to interpret passages (sort of). Regardless of whether we think it is easy to explain, we need to realize that this is some serious business. Jesus really, truly, cares about the state of our hearts—and especially our willingness to forgive. People who have been forgiven much should be forgiving. They must be forgiving. We must be forgiving.
On this point, Polycarp offered a sobering word for all of us. He wrote, “If we ask the Lord to forgive us we are obligated to forgive also, for we are before the eyes of the Lord and God, and we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and each must give an account of oneself.”
There are people I’ve had a hard time forgiving. There are some even to this day. But I want to do it. I need to do it. But I cannot do it on my own. I need help. And that’s one aspect of why the gospel is such good news for us. If we have been forgiven, we must forgive, this is true. This is what the Lord wants of me, and of you, and of all of us. But if we have been forgiven, we will be able to forgive… even if it takes time.