The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

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The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Post  SursumCorda on Sun Jun 21, 2009 10:48 am

It occurred to me yesterday, after reading the "Lord's Prayer" thread, that I've never
seen the parable of the unforgiving servant (Mt 18:21-35) included in the Catholic
Mass. Does anyone know why that is? Also, for the Protestant forum members: Is
this passage ever included in your services? Is is one of my favorites, but it makes me
a bit uneasy when I think about my own sinful past (and present!) and my capacity to
forgive someone who has done me a grievous wrong. The last three words in particular
("from his heart") give me trouble when I think about forgiveness versus anger.

I'll retype the passage here:

The Peter approaching asked him, "Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must
I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times
but seventy-seven times. That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a
debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of
paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and
all his property, in payment of his debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage,
and said 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.' Moved with compassion the
master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. When that servant had left,
he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him
and started to choke him, demanding, 'Pay back what you owe.' Falling to his knees, his
fellow servant begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' But he refused.
Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. Now when his fellow servants
saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and
reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, 'You wicked
servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have
had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?' Then in anger his master handed
him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly
Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart."
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SursumCorda

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It's weird that I figured this out

Post  VicarJoe on Sun Jun 21, 2009 1:12 pm

but anyway, I knew that the church cycled through the whole new testament, so I clicked on a few dates to triangulate and figured out that the parable you quote above is the reading for August 13: http://www.usccb.org/nab/081309.shtml

It may be that it has most often fallen not on Sunday but on weekday masses.

And not to sound like a broken record, but your parable seems to suggest that forgiveness (in the new testament sense) is very much a transaction begun by the offender asking for forgiveness: "I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to."
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You bring up an excellent point

Post  SursumCorda on Sun Jun 21, 2009 4:27 pm

about whether an individual asks for forgiveness. As I mentioned, I've been thinking about
that a lot, esp. since reading the Lord's Prayer thread. I wish I could articulate an
intelligent post about it, but right now I'm not able to coalesce my thoughts enough.
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Unforgiving Servant

Post  magyar1 on Mon Jun 22, 2009 10:52 am

In the Eastern Catholic Churches, that passage is preached on the 11th Sunday After Pentecost each year.

(The Latin (Western) Church has adopted a three-year cycle with specific readings)
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The problem for me

Post  cradlerc on Mon Jun 22, 2009 11:50 am

as I indicated on the other thread, is not in the idea that you don;t have to fogive where theere is no repentance, but in determining what is a debt for which I can withhold forgiveness until there is repentance.

In other words, what do I owe to the person who has harmed me? Don't I need to be certain that I know that they know what they have done? Am I allowed to hold a grudge when I'm angry about something I've never confronted someone about? What about those instances where I share blame?

Human debt and forgiveness seems very muddy to me because of our fallen nature and lack of discernement. Perhaps this is why we're often urged to err on the side of being forgiving.
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Parable lesson

Post  magyar1 on Mon Jun 22, 2009 12:11 pm

In almost every large metropolitan area it is possible to visit any number of museums, libraries and other public attractions to view a great many paintings of all kinds of subjects, designs and styles. Through the medium of art, the painter shares his particular perspective on any given subject or idea. We have all seen paintings of flower arrangements, animals, summer, winter, spring and fall scenes.

There are paintings of people which have become very famous: Leonardo DaVinci’s "Last Supper" for example or the "Mona Lisa". Michelangelo labored for years on his back painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. His splendid "Last Judgment" occupies the entire real wall there.

Painting, however, captures, only one person’s view of any subject, and that same subject interpreted by a different artist may be depicted quite differently.

The gospel story you referenced (Matt 18:23-35) of the unmerciful servant is not so much a painting as it is a mirror that Jesus holds up before us so that we may see ourselves for what we are. The mirror gives back a true and undistorted reflection. The mirror is always honest. Jesus’ parable is aimed at our reflecting His teaching on forgiveness. The basis for forgiving is not because the other person deserves being forgiven or because we ourselves may have a forgiving nature; rather, the basis lies in God’s having forgiven us first.

Forgiveness begins with that first pardon – our accepting God’s forgiveness. If we are full of hatred, God cannot fill us with love. We need to allow God to empty us of hatred, to replace it with His love and forgiveness to enable us to forgive others.

The lesson of today’s Gospel is that forgiveness is a debt owed. We are, as followers of Christ, obligated to forgive. Jesus stresses that there is no injustice any human being has ever committed which is comparable to the offenses against the holiness of God we, by our personal sinfulness, commit. Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant to explain in the disproportion of our own sins against God compared to the sins of our neighbor against us. God has paid the price of that forgiveness on Calvary and has left us the task of passing on that forgiveness we have received through Jesus to others.

When you are faced with a problem or resentments, hatred, or dislike, take a mirror and see whether it reflects back the same resentment, hatred or misunderstanding as the face that looks into it. See if you can’t change that image and remake it in the likeness of the forgiving Christ.
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See, that's where I get confused, Magyar --

Post  SursumCorda on Mon Jun 22, 2009 5:05 pm

I completely understand what you say about the parable, and I understand that God has forgiven me some grievous sins, which is why I feel sort of a knee-jerk reaction to automatically forgive anyone who wrongs
me. On the other hand, as Joe said (and let me know if I'm misparaphrasing you, Joe), if the so-called offender does not think that he or she needs to be forgiven (i.e., has not done anything wrong), then I'm not sure where that leaves a
person who does indeed feel wronged.

I hope I'm making sense....I'm not sure I am. scratch

Cradle, you bring up a good point, too, about society often urging us to err on the side of
forgiving.

It's really so confusing, I think! I wish I knew the perfect answer. Wouldn't that be great! LOL
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The Unforgiving Servant, alternate ending...

Post  stihl on Mon Jun 22, 2009 5:05 pm

So the servant begs and has his debt forgiven. He is walking past a fellow servant that owes a debt, albeit, a smaller one. He says to his fellow servant, "Hey, remember that money you owe me? Don't worry about it, the debt is forgiven."

Now, having the debt forgiven without asking for it made the second servant excited. He went and borrowed more money without the intent of paying it back because, he thought it was automaticaly forgiven.

The Master saw this and was furious. "What do you think you were doing???" yelled the Master to the first servant. He continued, "I didn't forgive your debt until you asked for it, now this knucklehead will never understand that with dept comes the responsibility to ask for forgiveness."

comments?
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Your post, stihl, reminds me of a book I read

Post  VicarJoe on Tue Jun 23, 2009 8:10 am

where the author (I think it was Theodore Dalrymple) wrote about the relationship a poor person will feel towards those who are charitable towards him versus the feelings he will have towards the entitlement program that provides the same relief. The response to charity is, of course, gratitude, but as Dalrymple says, no one ever felt gratitude to a state welfare program--if anything, they felt a sense of deserving and entitlement, mixed with resentment that the state wasn't giving more.

I suppose my point is that presumption of forgiveness could look a lot like thinking forgiveness is an entitlement, and not something freely given out of love that deserves our gratitude. (Gratitude inspires us, perhaps, to repair our errors; a sense of entitlement not so much.)
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Invincible innocence

Post  magyar1 on Tue Jun 23, 2009 9:23 am

SursumCorda,

You have raised a valid point concerning those who offend but do not think they have done anything wrong. I guess you could call this invincible innocence.

This is, of course, very frustrating. The only solace I have in a situation like this is to realize at the end of that person’s life, the account will be given to God. As God is merciful, He is also a dispenser of justice. I do not believe any excuses will work here.

If that solution seems too futuristic for your way of thinking, just remember that it is not you who will be facing God for this action, but the other person. It is much better that way, for you do not want to walk in the other person’s shoes.
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My concern would be...

Post  stihl on Tue Jun 23, 2009 9:38 am

...feeding somebody elses monster by offering unsolicited forgiveness and, in turn, making it more difficult for the other person to move toward God.
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