The parable of the sower gave an overall picture of how the kingdom of God, which Jesus also called the kingdom of heaven, is “inhabited” with God’s people. Then the wheat and tares showed that, among His people, the devil also put his people, called stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness, in an attempt to hinder the growth of the kingdom.
Following that, the parable of the talents highlighted how first, our Creator had endowed each of us with his own unique brand of talent in life, as well as spiritual gifts (see Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Second, it showed that man sometimes uses his God-given talents and entrepreneurial skills for success while, at other times, he can be lazy and act selfishly.
Now we come to a different set of circumstances, but at the same time similar to those of the talents in that, while not showing the laziness exhibited by the one slave, it explores a few other characteristics of the human heart, compassion as well as cruelty. Matthew 18:23-35 sets the scene for us whereby a king, or lord, can show a kind and forgiving spirit toward his slave while at the same time being harsh to those who cross him. It also shows hard-heartedness and cruel treatment by one of the slaves, who was shown grace by his master, to his fellow slave.
So, in Matthew 18:23-25, Jesus said, “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.”
While slavery of our fellow man, as we previously stated, is never to be condoned, it is, nevertheless, a reality. Here we are talking about the relationship between a king and his slaves, although that need not be the case for it could apply to any situation in life, such as an employer to an employee or a lender to a borrower.
Since this slave had no means to repay his debt, the king chose to sell him and his family, which was his right, albeit a horrible situation in itself. However, the fact that the slave incurred such debt also shows that the king had extended a measure of favor to the slave. In other words, there was a sense of order (commerce), even in the worst of situations.
18:26-30 says, “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.”
Did that slave show compassion to his fellow slave as the king had shown him? He did not. Given a new lease on life, this ungrateful slave, having been spared from being sold along with his family and also forgiven his debt, now, despite all of that, found a fellow slave who owed him considerably less than he had owed his lord, and, grabbing and choking him, he demanded repayment.
When the fellow slave pleaded with him, he callously threw him into prison. Now, it stands to reason that one person, especially a slave, cannot throw another person, even a slave, into prison without some manner of process, but the fact that the forgiven slave was so mean-spirited and acted with such malice and violence toward his fellow man is the point.
18:31-35: So, when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way, that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”
So, as we see, the other slaves, seeing how one of their fellow slaves had treated another of their own so deeply grieved them that they reported it to their lord. That is not tattling, or ratting out, it is the right thing to do, for it is wrong to act in that way toward one another. When the lord summoned the ungrateful slave, he admonished him, saying that he should have shown the same mercies which he, the lord, had shown him. Lack of gratitude is not a good trait to exhibit. Then, moved to anger, the lord had him sent to the torturers until his original debt was repaid.
That is a harsh reality, but a reality nonetheless. In other words, the lord not only reinstituted the debt, but we see him, a master of slaves, possibly a governor under the Roman yoke, demonstrating how he treated those under his command. The master was fair. The fact that he owned slaves or servants is not the point here. The point is how those under his command treated one another and how he treated them.
We see that the master called the ungrateful slave wicked, as did the master in the parable of the talents to the lazy slave. Wicked is a strong word, having connotations of being evil, immoral, or sinful. Being wicked is being just plain wrong, but regardless of what adjectives one uses to define it, it is ultimately a result of sin, and sin and the sin-nature of man are what Jesus was addressing.
One final point to make is this: This is the fourth “kingdom” parable we have been discussing. They are called kingdom parables because Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven could be compared to – and then He would go into the parable. So, here are a few questions: One, is the kingdom of God and the kingdom of heaven one-and the same? Two, is the kingdom of heaven, heaven, since the things going on in the parables are going on in the kingdom of heaven? Three, can these things possibly go on in heaven? Four, if these things do not go on in heaven, is this not the kingdom of heaven? Food for thought.