Parable of the Unmerciful Debtor

A “Kingdom of Heaven” parable.
Gratitude and self knowledge lead to forgiving others.
11th Sunday of Pentecost
Matthew 18:23-35


In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Brothers and sisters, today Gospels are about gratitude and about forgiveness. The first one is about the unmerciful debtor. I want to explain it to you, and then how do we apply it to our lives is really what’s most important. It doesn’t really matter if you understand something if you don’t do something about what you understand.

This is one of the Kingdom of Heaven parables. And whenever you hear that in the Scriptures, it is about how you need to live, the kind of person you need to be to obtain Heaven. Since it describes the Kingdom of Heaven, perhaps some think maybe it is referring the hereafter. No, the Kingdom of Heaven parables are primarily about how to live now.

And He says, the Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto “something”, and then He describes some parable. Sometimes it’s long; sometimes it’s short, but it is always about how we should live. Sometimes there is an example also about how we should not live. But it’s always about how to obtain the Kingdom by applying the examples given to the way we live.

Our Lord begins the parable:


“The Kingdom of Heaven is likened unto a certain king who had taken account of his servants.”


The “king” is God, and the “servants” are us. One servant was called to judgment, which represents the final judgment of all men, and he owed ten thousand talents.


Those “ten thousand talents” are a large sum of money to represent our sins, or, it is more accurate to say: our sinful condition, our sinful nature. These talents are representing our imperfections. The impure cannot be in the presence of purity, whether or not their sins are forgiven! Our impure condition, the things that go on in our heart, our jealousies and our anger and our lust, and so many other things make us incapable of being in God’s presence without fear, without pain.

It is not so much our sins that keep us from God because we can be forgiven of our sins. It is our sinful condition. The purpose of the God-Man Jesus Christ becoming man is that we would be able to become purified out of our effort, our sweat, our desire also, but also with His Grace so that we would no longer be sinners.

This is the goal of your life, brothers and sisters.


You might consider it an unrealistic goal, but it is the goal of life, is to become purified, to become perfected such that we can be in the presence of Perfection.

The Lord says to the servant, you’re going to be judged, and he will be bound hand and foot and taken away. The Lord commanded him to be sold along with his wife and children. Sounds very cruel, doesn’t it? But the wife and the children represent something. The “wife” is our sinful condition, our passions. And from this condition come actions that are bad. So the “children” are the results of our sinful inclinations, our passions.

Whereas lust might be a “wife,” adultery or fornication would be a “child.” Whereas a tendency towards anger, or irritability, might be a “wife”; to hit someone or slander them would be the “child”, the result of that sinful condition.

Payment is to be made. The Scripture doesn’t comment on this, but actually, there is no payment that can be made for our sins. There is nothing that we can give God that is equal to our sins. So this actually is a permanent selling, a permanent exile away from God.

So what does he do? He falls down before his master, this sinful servant, and says, be patient with me and I will pay thee all. Now, the Scripture does not lie. He will pay all. This does not mean that we can give God anything that He needs, or that we can in any way do some work that would obliterate our sins. The “payment” is us becoming good so that we can be in the presence of God Who is good.

God will help us with this payment, and we should not think of it as a payment in terms of exchanging money for goods, money for service. No, this is God helping us to become what we are predestined for; to be in the presence of holiness and to be holy in that presence.

The Lord has mercy on His servant and forgives him the debt completely. But what does the servant do? He goes out and finds another servant that owes him a very small amount of money, and he throttles him and takes him to the debtor’s prison so that he can get everything possible for that debt. And of course then people find out about it.

The “fellow servants” are the angels at the time of the judgment; they know what this wicked servant has done, and tell the Lord. At the Last Judgment this servant will have to make an account for why, when he was forgiven ten thousand talents, he did not forgive someone who owed a paltry sum to him; he will have no answer, and he will be bound hand and foot and be cast out into the outer darkness.

This represents useless repentance. In this life you can have useful repentance. Repentance is to be sorry for what you’ve done and to do something about it, to try to change. Perhaps your change might be glacially slow, but if you are making an effort to change, then you are repentant. But in the next life there will be no useful repentance. There will only be the first portion of repentance, and that is to be sorry, but only sorrow filled with shame and anguish.

You know that feeling when you have done something wrong? It’s a very heavy and painful feeling. Those in Hell will never have that feeling go away. That is what will happen to that servant who has not served his Lord: To be “bound hand and foot,” meaning to be incapable about doing anything about his sins, which he will remember, in minute detail, with crystal clarity. In this world we forget our sins. Do we know what we did fifteen years ago? It might have been very evil; we haven’t thought about it for a while. But the Lord remembers all, and the soul remembers all too. So when it comes time for the judgment, if we have no answer to the Lord, we’ll remember everything, but we’ll have no capability of doing anything about it.


So what does this parable teach us? Well, at the end, the Lord says sort of the outer meaning of the parable. Remember
I’ve told you that a parable always has one or more outer meanings and then many intricate inner meanings. And I’ve

already told you some of them.

The outer meaning or summary of this parable is that if we are forgiven, we should forgive others. And that in and of itself is powerful.


But it is more powerful is to consider ourselves and know ourselves and have a sense of gratitude for what we were and what God has helped us become. And with this gratitude and mindfulness we will be guarded against hatred toward our brother, and we will love our brother, and we will forgive him because we have been forgiven. It’s one thing to say forgive because you have been forgiven. It is another thing to feel deeply your own innate need and your own innate sinfulness and that God has cleansed you of this and delivered you, and therefore, forgive everyone.

There are many virtues, of course, and there are some virtues that are higher than the others, and especially help us with our salvation. Other virtues are descended from these cardinal virtues. Of course, the preeminent virtue is love. If we love as God loves, then everything follows.

Perhaps we would say that following that is purity. Because the person who is pure follows God’s law, which means that they would do all things that are pleasing to the Lord.


Do you and I love very well? Not all the time, inconsistently. Perhaps with more respected persons than we would like to admit. Are we pure? Sometimes. Sometimes we are not. Other virtues such as zeal can help you when you are struggling against sins. You’re going to struggle no matter what. You’re going to try hard no matter what.


These two Scriptures, including the other one which is about the sinful woman who had anointed the Lord’s feet, are about gratitude and mindfulness. Because the servant who had his debt relieved should have been as the sinful woman who had been forgiven of the Lord, with a sense of incredible gratitude to have been delivered from his sins.

Gratitude is a very powerful force, brothers and sisters. All right, you have sins in your life; you have things you do that you shouldn’t do, things that you don’t do that you should do. But if you have a sense of gratitude, you will do an important thing; you will love your brother because you remember that God loves you despite your sins.


Gratitude is wrapped up with a sense of knowing who you are, what you’ve done, and what you deserve. Gratitude should be a motivator. It should be this inner force within you that reminds you, sometimes perhaps even when you cognitively think about it, but most of the time it is an inner, silent motivator that makes you forgive your brother.

Brothers and sisters, we cannot be forgiven unless we forgive.


So this is critical. Just saying that we must forgive to be forgiven is something that we forget easily, but gratitude for what has been done for us can truly help us to remember and therefore forgive. Use anything you can to remember God and to remember what He has done for you, and you will forgive others.

For example, look in this parable and see how much you resemble this unmerciful debtor. No, you’re not throwing anybody into prison.

But do you hold anything against anyone?

Are you bitter about anything?

Is there anyone that you don’t forgive? Is there anyone that you don’t like?

Is there anyone about whom you say, ‘I forgive them but I just don’t want to be in the same room with them?’

Or, ‘I forgive them but I don’t want to go visit them?’

If there is bitterness in your heart, there is lack of forgiveness.


If you can fight this bitterness just by force of will, then you are very powerful indeed. For the most part we must fight this kind of bitterness by remembering who we are, and this is what the parable is teaching. Remember who you are. Remember where you came from. Remember what God has done for you, and then you will be willing to forgive your brother.


May God help you.


Transcribed by the hand of the handmaiden Helen.


Priest Seraphim Holland 2010.    


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