A-Z: Famous stories from the Bible: Parable of the unforgiving servant

Definition

On one occasion, Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who had done him wrong. Peter suggested that seven times might be enough, but Jesus multiplied that by seventy. To explain his answer, Jesus told the following parable.

One of a king’s servants owed the king a huge amount of money. When the king discovered this, he was about to imprison the man and sell his whole family into slavery, but the servant pleaded for more time to pay. The king took pity on him and instead of giving him more time, he completely forgave the man and freed him from the debt absolutely. 

The man left the king’s presence, but when he found a fellow servant who owed him a paltry sum of money, he grabbed him by the throat and insisted on payment. He refused to extend the loan and had his fellow servant thrown into prison. The other servants were very upset and told the king what had happened. 

The king was very angry and summoned the first servant. He rebuked him for being so unforgiving to his fellow, considering that he himself had been forgiven such a large debt. So now the first man was himself thrown into prison until he could pay off his huge debt. Jesus concluded that God would be just as severe to people unless they too forgave those who had wronged them.

Stained glass depiction of the unforgiving servantThe story illustrates:

  • God forgives those who are sorry for their wrongdoing, however great their sin
  • Having received God’s mercy, his followers have no right to withhold forgiveness from those who wrong them.

Related topics

Big ideas from the Bible: Parables; Forgiveness, mercy and grace

Bible References

Matthew 18:21-35
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