Parable of the Unmerciful Servant – Matthew 18,21-35 – Meaning and Commentary

1. Introductory prayer for the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

I pause and slowly calm myself. I make the sign of the cross, becoming more deeply aware of God’s presence within me and in everything that surrounds me. I ask for the grace of the Holy Spirit, for the gift of being moved by God’s word, which I am now allowed to read, listen to, ponder, and allow it to shape Christ within me (Gal 4:19), that I may become merciful, just as the heavenly Father is merciful (Lk 6:36). I ask for this in my own words or by using the following:

“Heavenly Father, I thank you for continually forgiving us through Jesus Christ. Guide my lectio divina of the Gospel passage so that I may better understand how you forgive me. Awaken in me the desire and strength to become more like you and to be able to forgive others in the power of your forgiveness.”

2. Reading – Listening: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant – Matthew 18,21-35– Meaning and Commentary

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.[g]

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[h] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins.[i] He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

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29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

3. Thoughts on the Gospel: The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant – Matthew 18,21-35 – – Meaning and Commentary

When Peter heard Jesus’ words about forgiveness, he wondered, “What is this? How many times should I forgive? Seven times?” (Matthew 18:21) However, Jesus didn’t limit forgiveness to seven times but removed all possible restrictions on forgiveness, saying, “Not seven times, but seventy-seven times!” (Matthew 18:22) To make his answer clear, he told a parable about boundless forgiveness.

When he spoke of the king, he was referring to God (Matthew 18:23-26). The servant owed the king ten thousand talents, which is equivalent to 164 tons of gold. The servant promised to repay, but even if he worked for his entire life, along with his wife, children, and entire family, he could never repay the debt. In other words, we can never repay God. It’s impossible! (Psalm 49:8-9)

And because he begged for mercy, the king forgave him completely. However, when unmerciful Servant encountered his fellow servant who owed him only a hundred denarii, which is 30 grams of gold, he refused to wait for repayment, even though the other servant pleaded with him. He had him thrown into prison (Matthew 18:27-30).

There’s no comparison between the two debts – a grain of sand and a mountain! God’s forgiveness, stemming from His unconditional love, is immeasurable (164 tons of gold), so He expects us to forgive small debts as well.

The unmerciful Servant who had been forgiven so much refused to forgive his fellow servant, so he was reported to the king, who then took appropriate action. He was thrown into prison, where he would remain forever.

The lesson of the parable is: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you if you do not forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:34; 6:12, 6:15; Luke 23:34).

On September 11, 2001, a group of terrorists, shouting “Holy War!” crashed two planes into two New York towers, killing more than three thousand people. The immediate response was “Holy War.” Both sides used God’s name to justify violence.

During the Iraq war, Pope John Paul II declared, “War is satanic!” At an ecumenical meeting of representatives of Jews and Muslims in Jerusalem in 2000, Pope John Paul II stated, “We cannot invoke God’s name to justify violence!”

There will be no peaceful future unless we make a strong effort to rebuild human relationships at their core, within the family and community. Peter thought about forgiving seven times (Matthew 18:21). He didn’t address the root of violence. Jesus goes much further, demanding forgiveness seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22), which means always. Especially today, forgiveness and reconciliation are the most urgent tasks for us, disciples of Jesus.

However, we must realize that we cannot forgive solely based on our own decisions and strength. We can only do it with the Father’s help, with the gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. Let’s continually ask Him for the grace to cooperate with Him so that we can choose the path of forgiveness in His power. Only then will forgiveness become our way of life, like breathing and the beating of our hearts. Let’s also ask Him to remind us and teach us how to build respectful relationships with others and ourselves in the way of Jesus, which includes healthy boundaries and expectations.

4. Meditation – Thinking

I am now reflecting on the heard Word of God. I am looking at Jesus and other individuals in the passage. I am observing how the Word of God touches my thoughts and feelings, how it reveals God to me and me to myself and others in Him. The following thoughts or questions can also be helpful:

  • Which of Jesus’ advice can help me the most with forgiveness and reconciliation?
  • When I look at the current situations in my family, community, Church, society, and the world, what do I notice? How much room is there for forgiveness and reconciliation? Where should I begin to spread reconciliation among us?

5. Personal Prayer

In the next moments of silence, I talk about this with Jesus. I tell him what I think, what I feel, what I want. I ask him for the grace that I need for … (make your conversation with God).

6. Contemplation – Quiet moment with God

I allow everything within me to fall silent. I am simply present in God, just as He is present in me. Perhaps from this silence and stillness, I will sense even more of God’s address and His desire for me to be always with Him and to do everything with Him and in Him…

7. Action

When I enter into a personal relationship with God, He transforms me, makes me more loving, and inspires me to take concrete action…

8. Prayer at the end

Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace of forgiveness. May I become more like you through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

9. Review of my prayer meditation or reflection

This is the time when I became aware of and articulate what was happening within me during prayer. The following questions can assist me in reflection:

  • What was happening during prayer? What feelings and thoughts could I discern within myself?
  • What did I learn about God, His relationship with me and others, and my own relationship with Him and others?
  • How did I conclude my prayer? What did I receive in it for my everyday life?
  • In the end, I can jot down my insights, discoveries, and realizations. I also note where I encountered difficulties, as these can be valuable in understanding God’s relationship with me and my relationship with Him. They can also help me find a more suitable way of praying. Then, I express gratitude to the triune God for everything.

Lectio Divina meditations are published and adapted with permission from the Jesuits home –

Text from the Bible – New International Version (NIV)

Image source: Photo by Tony Eight Media on Unsplash

Let us remain close in the same prayer! May the Lord bless you abundantly!