I have been studying the “Kingdom of Heaven” parables as told by Jesus in the book of Matthew. This one, found in Matthew 18:23-35, struck me deeply.
- Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.
- The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt.
- But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt.
- So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.
This parable corresponds to the line of the Lord’s Prayer, which says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Meaning, to the same degree that I forgive others, Lord, to that degree forgive me.
Just think about that for a moment. If you’re like I am, those words might make you feel a little nervous. It’s so easy to forget the debt we have been forgiven, and to remember the debts owed to us. And yet, if we live in constant awareness of our own enormous cancelled debt, in constant gratitude for the mercy we have been shown, it changes our vision. Suddenly the debts owed to us by others are seen in the light of God’s grace, and we realize how paltry, how insignificant, those debts are. Only in the light of Eternal forgiveness and mercy are we able to render forgiveness and mercy to our fellow-man.
Portia, in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, says it well: “Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render The deeds of mercy.”
So here is my attempt to capture the essence of this parable in poetry. Easy ballad format, iambic pentameter, form ABAB, ending with an AA couplet.
The debt I owed my King had grown so large,
Increasing into millions as I spent.
I should have realized there would be a charge
Demanding that I pay back every cent.
“More time, my Lord,” I begged before the throne.
But, pitiless, He ordered heavy chains
To bind me and my family, call our loan
By selling us as surety for His gains.
In terror for my life, I dropped, dismayed
And worshiped at His cold, impassive feet,
I wept aloud, implored, entreated, prayed
For patience ‘til I paid Him back, complete.
The palace still, but for my family’s sobs,
I quit my cries and swallowed back my tears.
I knew the law: that everyone who robs
The royal purse must serve out his arrears.
The soldiers pressed my children now to leave,
Then us, the parents, to our dreadful fate,
What happened next, I still can scarce believe:
The King called out to all his sentries, “Wait!”
We turned to him, beheld, not callous Law,
Not rigid, stony-hearted, Kingly rule,
But mercy, grace, forgiveness for my flaw,
His tear-stained face the opposite of cruel.
His voice was kind, “This debt you owe, so great,
Can never in this lifetime be repaid.
I have a better Law to legislate:
Your debt is pardoned; sentence now is stayed.”
I can’t begin describing all our joy,
Our sweet relief where once alarm had been.
The King had set me free; Who could destroy
Our peace, our brand-new life, set to begin?
And then I saw him, ducking out of sight,
The bankrupt chap who still had not returned
My “fiver” that he’d borrowed late one night,
Apparently, the swindler never learned!
His shifty face still made me furious.
How dare he owe and never pay me back!
My smugness found his “cheek” injurious
And, seething, I commenced my just attack.
I grabbed him by the throat, the lazy swine,
And hollered, “Pay me back and make it fast.
That fiver that I loaned you? Well, it’s mine!”
He looked at me with fear, his face aghast.
“I’ll pay you back; don’t worry; give me time!”
His voice, so shaky, pleaded that I wait.
But I knew better: he’d pay for this crime,
To prison now–no time to hesitate!
I locked him up, and settled back, at rest,
My conscience clear, my ethics rectified.
The malefactor’s dirty deed addressed,
The wrong made right, the truth now on my side.
Next morning, while I breakfasted alone,
The call came from His Majesty, the King.
I hurried to the palace, to His throne,
To serve, to give, to offer anything.
I never shall forget the look He gave,
The sorrow, then the anger as He said,
“Oh wicked servant, why should you behave
Like this–when only days ago you pled?
“I gave you clemency, forgave your debt.
And it was millions, yet I let it go.
But you refused to pardon, to forget
Or pity one who owed a sum so low.
“So now you’ll have the chance to feel his pain,
To wish for some compassion on your soul.
I’ve brought your sentence back, ‘til I regain
Each penny from your debtor’s prison-hole.”
Forgiven much, I grudged another’s debt,
And now I have a lifetime to regret.