“Charlie Evans, slave number 437, to see the king.” The squire looked down his slender nose at Charlie. “Approach the throne.”
Charlie counted each trembling step. Twelve. Twelve steps to seal his fate. He didn’t dare look up. He kept his eyes on his own bear feet. A pair of yellow, pointed-toed shoes clicked up beside him. The squire rattled his scroll. “His Royal Majesty graciously bestowed upon Charlie Evans, slave number 437, a loan of $500,000 exactly five years ago today. The accounts say the full amount is now due.”
Silence filled the hall. Charlie swallowed. “I don’t have it.”
“Speak up.” The squire’s voice cracked.
“I don’t have it, Sire. I lost it all.” He had been so confident five years ago. He’d had a no-fail business plan, a profit-making promise, a sure deal. He’d won the king’s trust and funding. He’d tried. Truly. And failed. I’m a failure.
The king gave one quiet little snort. “Throw him in debtors’ prison until the money is paid, and sell his wife and children.” The squire’s yellow shoes clicked backward to make way for the guards. That’s when Charlie threw himself and his dignity face down on the palace tiles.
“No!” The wail bounced off the stone walls. “I have been a foolish man, Your Majesty. I owe you a debt I can never repay. Please, please have mercy on me. My precious wife – she trusted me, and I’ve failed her. We’ve only got two daughters, my lord – they are just 2 and 4. Please don’t separate them from their mother. Please allow them the love of their father. Please, Your Majesty, have mercy.”
Charlie lay, nose to the floor, his sobs the only sound in the vast room. And then …
“I forgive you.”
Charlie looked up. The king was leaning forward on his throne, looking him straight in the eyes. “I forgive you. You never have to repay the money. Get up and go home. Be a husband and father.”
Charlie hadn’t run in years, but he scrambled up off that floor and ran now. He was free. Forgiven. Debt cancelled. He threw open the palace doors and ran into the sunshine. The cacophony of that village street seemed a symphony of joy.
That’s when he saw Jacob, slave number 348, buying an apple. Jacob owed Charlie $10. He’d borrowed it to buy a shovel five months ago, promising he’d pay it back when he dug enough holes to earn a profit. Five months. Enough time to dig a lot of holes. Charlie pushed his way through the crowd.
“Nice coat. Is it new? You owe me $10.”
“I can’t pay it. I’m sorry. No one has hired me to dig anything.”
“The law says I can throw you in prison for that.”
“Please don’t. I’m sorry. It’s just $10. I’ll get it to you soon.”
“Just $10?” Charlie looked around for a sentry. Ah, there was one. “You there,” he called. The big man turned. “This slave owes me $10 and refuses to repay me. Throw him in prison.”
“Charlie, please. I’ve got a wife and kids. You know I can’t make any money in prison. They’ll starve.”
“You should have thought of that before you took my ten bucks.”
The sentry grabbed Jacob by his collar and hauled him away.
Charlie didn’t see the little slave girl buying bread nearby. He didn’t know she worked at the palace. And he wasn’t there when she told the king. But the next morning, the king’s soldiers yanked Charlie out of bed, ignored the screams of his wife and drug him to the torture chambers. As he hung there on the rack, the king himself swept into the filthy room.
“You wicked man. I forgave you $500,000 because you begged me, and yet you refused to forgive your fellow slave a lousy $10.”
Charlie couldn’t answer. The pain paralyzed his brain, and when he opened his mouth, only a groan escaped. The king went on.
“Shouldn’t you have had mercy? You of all people, shouldn’t you have forgiven as you had been forgiven?”
Again, Charlie moaned.
The king wrapped his wine-colored robes about him and turned to the jailer. “Keep him here until he pays me every last cent.”
“So shall My heavenly Father also do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Matt 18:35 NASB
I didn’t make this story up. You can read Jesus’ version in Matthew 18:21-35. So, let’s just spell it out here shall we?
Charlie is me. The king is God. The debt is my sin. Jacob is the person who has sinned against me.
This parable is frighteningly to the point: God has forgiven me all my sin, all of it, every single bit of it – a huge, life-time, gargantuan amount of sin.
Any sin that anyone else commits against me is small compared to the amount of sin God has already forgiven me. Even if my offender’s sin against me feels enormous, all I have to do is compare it to my lifetime of sin against God to put it in perspective.
And, if I don’t forgive my offender … God… will … not … forgive … me.
Have you ever said it? “I could never forgive him.” Or maybe, “Well, I can’t forgive her because she hasn’t apologized.” You are playing with fire. Anyone want to guess what the torture chamber stands for in this account? It’s a horror story, and it’s a true one. We can’t gloss this one over, painting God as a kindly grandfather who will let this slide.
It’s frighteningly important: forgive. No matter what he or she has done. No matter how wrong. No matter how hurtful. Forgive. Or you’ll face your God without forgiveness.
Forgive, out of joy and gratitude for your own forgiveness. Forgive, and forego the prison of bitterness. Forgive, and find freedom.
Forgive, as extravagantly as you have been forgiven.