Matthew 18:34-35 – Honour, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and the People of God

Did Jesus just say, “… his lord handed him over to be tortured … likewise my heavenly father will do this to every one of you unless you forgive”?

nottalkingIn Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus tells a story. The punch line sounds like he is saying that God is going to torture people who don’t forgive each other. That’s actually not what he’s saying.

The full story is this, told in response to Peter’s question:

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place.

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

– Matthew 18:21-35

The Soundcloud link below is the message I preached on that text. It explains what Jesus was talking about in those last two sentences, and it opens up a fresh understanding of forgiveness which is different to how we usually think about it.

The message is called “Honour, Reconciliation, Forgiveness, and the People of God”.


facebook comments:

2 Responses so far.

  1. Jeff says:

    If thats true what does forgiving someone do for honor? I think I get what you mean but i cant see how it all works.

    • Thanks for the question, Jeff.

      When someone does something wrong to you, part of the problem is that it dishonours you. Otherwise it would not be considered a problem, you see. I’ll express it in terms of Transactional Analysis:

      When someone steals from you, they dishonour you because if they held you in honour they would not steal from you. When someone lies to you they dishonour you because if they honoured you they would tell you the truth.

      Of course, when the community hears of this dastardly act, it is the perpetrator that suffers dishonour. The community will affirm the honour of the one who has been wronged, thereby restoring their honour, but the perpetrator is now in dishonour.

      The problem is that, even when justice has been done, and the dishonour is where it belongs, there is still a problem – the community has been damaged and needs to be restored! The way to do that is to restore the honour of the perpetrator. The only valid way to achieve this is that the victim graciously forgives the perpetrator. This act of grace clears all dishonour and restores the perpetrator to the community.

      So you see, honour and dishonour are at the centre of the concept of “sin”, and therefore also of “reconciliation”.

      I hope that’s helpful.

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