Year of Mercy: Reciprocal Mercy

We like to think that we learn to give mercy to others in keeping with the ways we have received it ourselves.  But unfortunately, the parable in Matthew 18: 21-35 teaches us that this not always the case.

The servant owed his master an unbelievable sum–ten thousand talents–an amount roughly equal to what it would take 164,383 years (60 million days) to earn!  Jesus made the amount so high that those who heard the story likely laughed outloud at the preposterous idea.

But….the master forgave the servant the debt–wiped the slate clean–reduced the amount to zero.  The crowd likely gasped at the thought that such amazing grace could ever have been given. 

The servant left his master completely off the hook, but soon crossed paths with someone who owed him three-months (100 days) worth of debt.  No doubt, the crowd was ready to hear that the servant forgave the debt (paltry by comparison to what he had owed) since he had just had his enormous debt cancelled.

But no, the servant grabbed the person by the throat and demanded that he pay up in full.  He had just been given unimaginable restorative justice, but he turned around and exacted extreme retributive justice on the person.

And so…we are left silent and sobered as Jesus causes us to see one of the greatest sins committed by those who have received mercy–the sin of not giving mercy to others.  There is nothing worse than turning grace into law, love into judgment.  It is spiritual alchemy in reverse:  turning the gold of mercy into the lead of legalism.

If we find ourselves saying, “That is awful!” that is exactly what Jesus wants us to think, and he wants us to call out the sin of mercilessness in our day just as he did in his.  Mercy is meant to be reciprocal–we are intended to give what we have received.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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