Matthew 18:21-35 (NRSVCE)
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant seems quite shocking to us. Jesus tells us that God forgives and has mercy on us. However, if we do not forgive and have mercy on each other, God will not show mercy to us. It is quite the warning! And the reason for why God’s mercy and forgiveness would not be given to those who lack a forgiving heart might not be entirely clear. That’s the focus of our reflection today.
God loves us, each and every one. And in that love, God desires us to love Him back. Loving God means not simply having warm fuzzy feelings for God, it means obeying His commandments, building His kingdom, and acting as His stewards of Creation, as man was created to be. It is the love of God which enables us to do all of these things, as 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us.” God’s love unites us as the one People of God, transforming us such that we are able to love each other not as mere friends or even romantic partners, but as fellow children of God. Each and every one of us is made in the Image of God, the consequence of which is that a failure to love each other is a failure to love God.
This is why Jesus warns us about forgiveness and mercy. God has given both to us out of His goodness, due to no merit on our part. Why then should we demand others merit our forgiveness and mercy? To take God’s forgiveness and deny forgiveness to others is to prove that we have not allowed God’s love to transform us. We are not loving as we ought—as God loves. Once again from John we hear, “those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” (1 John 4:21) This is twofold: both a command, and a consequence. If we are to love God, we must love our brothers and sisters. And if we love God, we will love our brothers and sisters. It is the consequence of love. If you are interested in more on this, I wrote extensively on it here. For now, there is one more point I want to make.
To love each other does not mean to ignore each others’ faults. To forgive one another and show each other mercy does not mean we are to try create a consequence-free world. It does not mean to always act like everything is okay, even when it isn’t, for the sake of avoiding hurt feelings. Love is not always pretty, and it is not always enjoyable. Love means correcting each other when we do wrong, and accepting correction from others. It means accepting that we are all fallen, we are all sinners, and none of us is finished with this pilgrim journey of faith. It means that we walk that journey together, helping and carrying each other along the way, so that we all might rejoice in the glory of God forever.