“Godspell: The Story of the Unforgiving Servant”

Weekly Bible Devotional

“Godspell: The Story of the Unforgiving Servant”

Matthew 18:21-35


Scripture for Sunday: Matthew 18: 21-35

21 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?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25 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. 26 So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28 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.’ 29 Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt.31 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.32 Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35 So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


Notes on The Text:

This chapter in Matthew is often used by Christians as a model for dealing with conflict in the community of faith. It contains some practical advice that mediation and nonviolence centers would find quite good. When we feel hurt or slighted by someone in our community, we are supposed to go directly to them and speak to them about our frustration. Then Jesus gives us other steps for escalating the mediation and reconciliation efforts. These are excellent steps which people have used over the centuries. They are not easy, because it is often much easier to complain about the person behind their back or just shut them out of our lives. I am well aware that sometimes we need to protect ourselves from people who have patterns of violence, prejudice, hate, or verbal/emotional abuse. But where there is mutual desire to work things out, the steps Jesus offers can bring great healing and reconciliation.


Jesus does not stop there. We may reconcile with someone in public without forgiving them in our hearts. We may also end a relationship with someone but the anger and hurt of that relationship is carried in our hearts for years after that relationship had ended. In order to illustrate the need for the practice of radical forgiveness, Jesus gives his followers a parable about forgiveness. We can read the parable and easily miss its shocking nature which Jesus intended in order to reverse the people’s understanding of forgiveness. The parable is shocking because the king would have been a symbol of corruption and power in Jesus’ time. Also, there was the unjust system of slavery. When people couldn’t pay their debts, they became slaves. And the amount of money that the slave owed to the king was so tremendous. A single talent is equivalent to 15 years of wages. 10,000 talents would be the equivalent of 150,000 year of labor, while the amount that the servant was owed by his friend was only 100 denarii which equaled 100 days’ wages. To see this kind of forgiveness coming from a king must have shocked the listeners. The contrast between the two debts was so sharp to help people really get the message. Not only the amount was so incredible, but also the person who forgave was not a person who normally would forgive others their financial debts. These people were his slaves. He owned them because they couldn’t pay their debts. By forgiving the debt, the king was basically setting the slave free. That simply was not done! The listeners would have thought that the king was crazy. They would have been shocked to even imagine such forgiveness. Jesus was shocking his listeners with the use of this image to show them that God’s forgiveness was limitless, even absurd, and their image of a vengeful God was to be transformed. Jesus was telling them that if even a corrupt king could be so forgiving, then how much more would God be! That is the shock of the values of the kingdom of God. They turn our “normal” expectations upside down. God practices radical forgiveness and we are invited to do the same.


For Reflection:             

I think that reflecting on conflict and how we deal with each other is very timely in light of the impeachment trial that is taking place right now. The model for seeking justice that is on display for all of us is that of hate, anger, grudges, and closed hearts and minds. Degrading the other side is the model we are supposed to follow and admire. Blind tribal-like allegiance has closed people’s minds and hearts to have a fair and dignified process. How do we reconcile this model with Jesus’ invitation to respect others and to practice forgiveness daily? If you have been engaged in degrading and dehumanizing the “other side,” I invite you to let this parable speak to you. This is not an invitation to abandon our pursuits for justice. It is an invitation to do that from a place of love and concern for other. That is why the work of forgiveness is so important, even on a social and a political level. I often think of people like Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela who refused to hate their enemies because they believed in our interdependence. Here is a quote from Dr. King on forgiveness: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. The one who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.”


Conflict is part of life. We can never escape misunderstandings or mistreatments. The challenge of the kingdom of God is to think of what we need to do in times of conflict. The concept of forgiveness is often misused to mean that we would let bad things be done to us or to expect others to forgive us when we continue to harm them. Yet, forgiveness is not pardoning, condoning, excusing, forgetting, denying, or even reconciling. It does not condone violence, abuse, or injustice. It does not release others from the consequences of their behavior. Forgiveness is essentially a unilateral, private choice, a necessary first step in freeing oneself from carrying the heavy burden of resentment over past hurts. It sets the stage for such future possibilities as reconciliation and restoring broken relationships. Forgiveness is a force, an energy that comes from the heart.  Forgiveness is more a process than a onetime decision.


Richard Rohr writes, “Forgiveness is an attitude of forgiving reality for being what it is, forgiving an imperfect world…. It’s in your struggle with the wound that you move from unconsciousness to consciousness.”


The process of forgiveness helps us to open ourselves to transformation from needing to be perfect or to make our circumstances perfect to knowing our inner goodness that comes from the divine presence in our hearts.


I invite you to think about forgiveness in your heart. How does the parable of the absurdly forgiving king speak to your life right now? What freedom do you long for in places of conflict and hurt? What holds you hostage to the past? Maybe the person you need to forgive is yourself.

Here are some wise words from Joyce Rupp about forgiveness, “When I experience God’s non-judgmental and loving acceptance of myself in prayer, I am called to extend these same identifying features of compassion to others. When I remember that God tolerates and forgives the smelliness of my own faults and failings, I am more ready to accept what I find disdainful in others. The more I know my own great need for the embrace of a merciful, forgiving God, the more I can be forgiving and merciful to those who wound me. The more I truly believe the Holy One loves and accepts me as I am, while longing for me to be all I can be, the more I will gather to my heart all who are part of this vast world of ours.”


Blessed Are Those Who Have Asked for Forgiveness by Nan Merrill:

Blessed are those who have confessed
their erring ways,
who have asked for forgiveness.
Blessed are those whose burdens
have been lifted,
who are able to respond with love.
For the Beloved walks with them and
speaks to them in the Silence;
With mercy and compassion, they
are held in Love’s heart;
All who are at one with Love will
live in peace and harmony.




Quotes about Forgiveness

“Forgiveness is the essence of peacemaking and begins with ourselves. First, we find the wisdom to be gained from whatever mistakes we have made or failures we have experienced and give thanks for it. Then we forgive ourselves by releasing blame, guilt, and pain. We also need to forgive others who have hurt us. We do not have to condone what they have done, but we do need to release our anger and resentment toward them… Since our inner world is reflected in our outer world, peace, joy, and love (the fruits of forgiveness) will flow into the world’s environment and help people who are having difficulty forgiving themselves or others.”  ~Theresa Magness


“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. The one who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.”  ~Martin Luther King, Jr.


“God’s forgiveness is unconditional; it comes from a heart that does not demand anything for itself, a heart that is completely empty of self-seeking. It is this divine forgiveness that I have to practice in my daily life. It tells me to keep stepping over all my arguments that say forgiveness is unwise, unhealthy, and impractical. It challenges me to step over all my needs for gratitude and compliments. Finally, it demands of me that I step over that wounded part of my heart that feels hurt and wronged and that wants to stay in control and put a few conditions between me and the one I am asked to forgive. This “stepping over” is the authentic discipline of forgiveness.”

~Henri J. M. Nouwen

“Forgiveness is twice blessed. It frees the one forgiven from guilt and you from bitterness. Forgiveness sheds light on the subject. It lets love, instead of judgment, shine in. Judgment curdles the soul; forgiveness invites your spirit to burst into bloom.” ~Daphne Rose Kingma

“What keeps us from forgiving the people who hurt us is that we have not yet healed the wounds they inflicted. Forgiveness is the gift at the end of the healing process. We find it waiting for us when we reach a point where we stop expecting “them” to pay for what they did or make it up to us in some way. Yet, forgiveness is moving on. It is recognizing that we have better things to do with our life and then doing them.”

~ R. Dov Peretz Elkins


“In our society, forgiveness is often seen as weakness. People who forgive those who have hurt them or their family are made to look as if they really don’t care about their loved ones. But forgiveness is tremendous strength. It is the action of someone who refuses to be consumed by hatred and revenge.” ~ Helen Prejean

“Blessed are those who have confessed
their erring ways,
who have asked for forgiveness.
Blessed are those whose burdens
have been lifted,
who are able to respond with love.
For the Beloved walks with them and
speaks to them in the Silence;
With mercy and compassion, they
are held in Love’s heart;
All who are at one with Love will
live in peace and harmony.” ~ Nan Merrill

“The healing of our present woundedness may lie in recognizing and reclaiming the capacity we all have to heal each other, the enormous power in the simplest of human relationships: the strength of touch, the blessing of forgiveness, the grace of someone else taking you as you are and finding in you an unexpected goodness.”

~ Rachel Naomi Remen

“We nourish our souls when we continue to plant seeds of love wherever we go. When we let go of our negative thoughts and forgive ourselves and other people, that’s like taking the weeds out of the garden and letting love blossom.”~ by Gerald Jampolsky


“Without forgiveness there is no future.” ~ Desmond Tutu

“Forgiveness is always necessary when I have the perception that I failed to love and accept myself or another. Forgiveness allows me to let go of any feelings of inadequacy that arise in me. Forgiving myself is the affirmation that I do not buy into the feelings of inadequacy that invariably arise when I judge myself or another. Forgiveness keeps the slate of my heart open for Spirit to write on.” ~ Paul Ferrini


“Forgiveness is the treatment and the conditioning that helps loosen habits and patterns. When we fa1l foul of old ways, when we fail to get beyond our “stuff,” despite all our good intentions, we have to forgive ourselves and try again. We have to act as compassionately toward ourselves as we would toward a child we were teaching a new skill. Forgiveness allows the process of transformation to continue by removing the obstacles that can check the flow.” ~ Daniel Martin


“Perhaps it’s possible to forgive in one grand swoop, but I didn’t experience it that way. I did it in bits and pieces. You forgive what you can, when you can. To forgive does not mean overlooking the offense and pretending it never happened. Forgiveness means releasing our rage and our need to retaliate, no longer dwelling on the offense, the offender, and the suffering, and rising to a higher love. It is an act of letting go so that we can go on.” ~ Sue Monk Kidd


“Little slights, harsh or unthinking words that sting and hurt, something said or done that has left wounded feelings are not that hard to forgive. No one is perfect and all of us, at one time or another, have done these things without even realizing it. Develop an attitude of constant acceptance and forgiveness as you go about daily life, shrugging off these little things in the realization that only your own attitude is bringing the distress you are feeling about them. Forgive yourself first for getting upset: then forgive the other person – entirely. To really erase the memory, think of something nice about that person and send out vibrations of concern and affection instead. If the person really meant to hurt you, this is entirely disarming! Love conquers all.” ~ Ruth Ryden


“Forgiveness is not just some nebulous, vague idea one can easily dismiss. It has to do with uniting people through practical politics. Without forgiveness there is no future. To forgive is the only way to permanently change the world.” ~ Desmond Tutu


“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I know if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison.”

~ Nelson Mandela


“Forgiveness can be a decision to give up feelings of getting even, holding a grudge, feeding anger, staying stuck, refusing to let go.” ~ by Bob Bower


“Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean.” ~ by Dag Hammarskjold


“Forgiveness is the peace you learn to feel when you allow these circling planes to land.
Forgiveness is for you and not the offender.
Forgiveness is taking back your power.
Forgiveness is taking responsibility for how you feel.
Forgiveness is about your healing and not about the people who hurt you.
Forgiveness is a trainable skill just like learning to throw a baseball.
Forgiveness helps you get control over your feelings.
Forgiveness can improve your mental and physical health.
Forgiveness is becoming a hero instead of a victim.
Forgiveness is a choice.
Everyone can learn to forgive.” ~
Fred Luskin

“Forgiveness is at the heart of every relationship.
It is the essence of love.
Forgiveness is loving people as they are
and revealing to them their beauty,
which is hidden behind the walls they have built around their hearts.
Forgiveness is a new force that comes from God.
Forgiveness is the road to peace.” ~ 
Jean Vanier


“It is hard to imagine a world without forgiveness. Without forgiveness life would be unbearable. Without forgiveness our lives are chained, forced to carry the sufferings of the past and repeat them with no release.” ~Jack Kornfield

“I have concluded that forgiveness is a paradox: we cannot heal ourselves if we do not forgive others, but if we do forgive, it is we ourselves who benefit the most. If we let feelings of hatred and revenge consume us when we are devastatingly hurt, we cease to be the human being we were created to be. We condemn ourselves to live in anguish.” ~Antoinette Bosco

“Forgiveness is not a luxury we can engage in now and then, or up to a measurable number of times. It is the very lifeblood of the spiritual life, the way in which we maintain our connection with the flow of divine energy. As soon as we try to limit it in any way, we cut ourselves off from God’s reign, from the whole realm in which prayer derives its efficacy and healing its solace. . . . Forgiveness keeps affirming future for the other, just as we count on God to continually affirm future for us.” ~ Ron Miller

“Perhaps forgiveness is the last thing mentioned in the Creed because it is the last thing learned in life. Perhaps none of us can understand the forgiveness of God until we ourselves have learned to forgive.” ~ Joan Chittister


“We are forgiven in Jesus, the good news of God. As followers, we are given the power to forgive one another as God has forgiven us. Forgiveness, the heart and soul of Jesus’ good word of good news, is what brings life, raises people up from despair, and releases them from their prisons of brokenness, loneliness, and darkness.” ~ Megan McKenna

“In the end, forgiveness simply means never putting another person out of our heart.” — Jack Kornfield

“It is the recognition that there is a bonding given by God which is deeper than our feelings;
that our ‘enemy’ too has a place in the community, the family, the church or society;
the ‘enemy’ has a right to live and to flourish.
Jesus has called the “enemy” to a specific place and has given him or her specific gifts
which I should respect.
Forgiveness is a long process
that begins with this respect for the other; for the ‘enemy.’” — 
Jean Vanier

“Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past.” — Jack Kornfield

“Nothing blocks feelings of gratitude more than anger and resentment. That’s why the practice of gratitude requires the work of forgiveness.” — M. J. Ryan

 “Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll your tongue over the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back—in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” ~Frederick Buechner

“To forgive is not just to be altruistic.  It is the best form if self-interest.  It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger.  These emotions are all part of being human.  You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things:  The depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger. However, when I talk of forgiveness, I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person.  A better person than one being consumed by anger and hatred.  Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator.  If you can find it in yourself to forgive, then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator.  You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person, too.” ~Desmond Tutu


“Forgiveness is not forgetting or walking away from accountability or condoning a hurtful act; it’s the process of taking back and healing our lives so we can truly live.” ~  Brené Brown


“The primary teaching of Jesus is forgiveness — for everything, for everyone, in all circumstances and deeds.” — Megan McKenna

“We need lots of love to forgive, but we need much more humility to ask for forgiveness.” — Mother Teresa

“Forgiveness is an act of faith in God, an act of hope in the future, and an act of love for our neighbors. If we dare forgive, we can trust that God will deepen within and among us the gift of peace.” — John Dear

“’Love your enemies,’ the precept of the Gospels, calls on us to pass over to those who hate us or to those we hate, and so it requires the miracle-working power of forgiveness, to release others and be released ourselves.” — John S. Dunne


“I always believed that forgiveness was at the heart of the Christian enterprise. . . I simply discovered the kind of liberating belief that was known only by those who feel themselves to be morally and spiritually shipwrecked and who experience the miracle of resurrection in knowing that they are loved.”— Alan Jones


“When you truly cross the threshold to forgiveness, you break the cycle of negative patterns of abuse, ridicule, betrayal, rejection, discouragement, cruelty, abandonment, lack of love, failure, or scorn that have continued generation after generation. You initiate a new cycle of love, support, and kindness that will follow you for generations to come.” — Denise Linn

So why are Christians so often so joyless? It is, I think, because too often Christians have only enough religion to make themselves miserable. Guilt they know, but not forgiveness. Nietzsche correctly noted, “Christians should look more redeemed.” — William Sloane Coffin

In the spiritual life, nothing goes away. There is no heavenly garbage dump. It’s all here, wherever we are. Everything belongs. Even forgiveness does not mean it goes away. It means we forgive it for being there, nothing more. Even our demons do not go away. As Robert Bly wisely said: You don’t get rid of demons, you just educate them. — Richard Rohr

When we discover how great God’s forgiveness is, we are impelled more and more strongly to forgive one another. The Rule of Taize recalls the phrase that Brother Roger’s mother often used to repeat: “If we were to lose mercy, we would have lost everything.” A life of communion with God opens us to seek reconciliation with others and to commit ourselves to alleviate the sufferings of the poorest. — Marcello Fidanzio

Forgiveness is vision free of the past. A judgmental feeling about another person is based on the same belief as my fear of making mistakes: I think that what someone once did is more important than how that person is now. The work before me is to practice fully absorbing people as they are this instant. Taking them in as if for the first time. Obviously, I won’t accomplish this if their past dominates my perception. — Hugh Prather


Love of enemies is trusting God for the miracle of divine forgiveness. If God can forgive, redeem, and transform me, I must also believe that God can work such wonders with anyone. Love of enemies is seeing one’s oppressors through the prism of the Reign of God — not only as they now are but also as they can become: transformed by the power of God. — Walter Wink

“Motivating the nonviolent vision is the biblical notion of shalom. This is the peace that endures because it is the fruit of long, and at times tedious, engagement. It heeds the wounds of the past, the bitterness and the resentments of yesteryear, and it seeks to create conditions where reconciliation, forgiveness, and healing can begin to happen. Socially and politically, it adopts all the skills for dialogue and negotiation that have been tried and tested. But it never stops here; the shalom of God always points to a larger horizon.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu



“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

 Mahatma Gandhi


“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” ― C.S. Lewis

“To err is human, to forgive, divine.” ― Alexander Pope


“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” ― Corrie Ten Boom

“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.” ―
 Oprah Winfrey


“Throughout life people will make you mad, disrespect you and treat you bad. Let God deal with the things they do, cause hate in your heart will consume you too.” ― Will Smith


“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

 ― Nelson Mandela


“Forgiveness has nothing to do with absolving a criminal of his crime. It has everything to do with relieving oneself of the burden of being a victim–letting go of the pain and transforming oneself from victim to survivor.” ― C.R. Strahan


“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.”
 G.K. Chesterton


“Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die.”
 Anne Lamott


godspell 4

Weekly Bible Devotionals

Written by Pastor Roula Alkhouri


Close to Home: Seeking Sanctuary


Close to Home: A Home for All


Close to Home: Laying the Foundation