Unmerciful Servants: in Marriage and Life

broken glass with crossBy Mary Abrahamson

Peter asked Jesus, “How many times do I have to forgive my brother?”

Remember Jesus’ reply? Jesus answered with what is often called The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, which we can read in Matthew 18:21-35.

A servant owed his master a great debt. In the parable, these represent God (master), and us (servant), and the debt of sin under which we live and which separates us from God (the debt).

The master forgave the great debt. God, of course, forgives us our very great debt of sin, every one of our sins, and even the innate sin of our natures. For Jesus’ sake.

Continuing on in the parable, the servant then tried to collect a small debt from one of his peers. This second servant could not pay, and begged for mercy. The first servant had the second thrown into prison. The first servant represents us, when we do not forgive others who sin against us.

When the master found out, he said,

“You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?”

God in His righteous anger expects from us the same compassion toward others as He has shown us.

The story ends when the master delivers the unmerciful servant to the torturers until he can pay the whole debt.

The Biblical account closes with this warning,

So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.

Of course this readily hits home for many of us.

But for others, it gets kind of tricky. It’s easy to think we forgive others. Perhaps there is no blaring grudge we are holding against another.

Consider this.

The master in the parable forgives the servant a great debt. We don’t have an itemized list of all that the servant owed. But it was a great debt. The master forgave all.

God forgives us all, too. Not just individual, itemizable sins, but the whole shebang. He forgives us our original sin. Our sinful nature. He forgives us our very nature.

In this life we may think we are forgiving of others. We may recall the times someone has sinned against us, repented, and we’ve forgiven them.

But are we understanding and patient with the very existence of sin in another?

The best place to see this in inconsistency is in our relationships with those to whom we are closest. Particularly in marriage. In fact, I suspect that this is a root causes of discontent, unhappiness, and even bitterness in many marriages.

The closer we are to a person, and the more time we spend with together with that person, the more of his or her flaws we see. This is natural.

We are all sinful. We are taught how to behave and for the most part, we can put on a good show. But we will never purge from ourselves all of our sin. Those closest to us are the ones who will have most opportunity to see the secret things that we might be able to hide from the rest of the world. And of all those close to us, the one very closest to us is usually our spouse.

Do you have trouble letting go of all those little things your spouse does, those annoying little habits, the interpersonal skills that seem lacking, a personality trait that makes you want to pull your hair out.

Is your husband lazy, uncouth, disorganized? Does he put things away wrong? Does he not put things away at all? Does he eat his fingernails after he chews them off? Do you have to do most of the cleaning? Does he clean poorly when he does clean?

Or the bigger things? Does your husband have a drinking or gambling problem? Does he suffer from depression? Anger management issues? Do you differ on budgeting, or on the ability to stick to the budget you’ve set up?

All these and ever so many more can cause stress, and unhappiness, and discontent in a marriage.

And certainly communication can help alleviate some of the frustration. Don’t forget to try this obvious path. Talk about things before they fester. Get counseling if warranted.

But there will always be sin in your spouse. All your counseling, and communication skills, and polite asking will not be able to purge the sin from your husband.

It’s must easier to see that hidden sin, those flaws and shortcoming, the innate brokenness of sin, in our spouse than in ourselves. But now flip it around. What debt does your husband hold over you? When considered honestly, most of our husbands can list a great many things they put up with in us, too.

Do you get down and out easily? Do you procrastinate? Are you impatient or self-righteous?

Do you prefer a quiet evening on the couch and he prefers to invite people over? Do you manage the children differently than he’d prefer? Do you need more social time with friends than he does?

Do you set your earrings on the end table and forget them? Or kick your shoes off where he trips on them?

Are you anxious about keeping the house “just so,” and he’d prefer to have a calmer wife with some messes around?

Do you smile at him and find pleasure in his company like you used to?

Of course I don’t know the specifics of anyone’s situations. But I do know that we are all sinful. And not just in an itemizable way. We are not only sinful with those particular sins for which we can apologize and be forgiven. But it’s the whole shebang. Our husbands see and live with our whole broken nature.

Yes, our spouses are filled to the brim with sin.  No doubt about it.

But so are we.

Everything we do and say and think and feel is tainted.

But like the servant in the parable, we have a forgiving Master. For Jesus’ sake God has forgiven us our great debt.

With that in mind, we can and must forgive each other. We must forgive not just our spouses. But everyone. Our spouses, coworkers, fellow church members and pastors, brothers and sisters, and parents and children. We must forgive not just the list of blaring big stuff or the little piddly stuff. But the great debt. The whole debt. The debt of simply being less that we’d like others to be.

Because we too are forgiven the great debt of our own brokenness.

Photo credit Dave Bleasedale and Clare Belle.  Some rights reserved.
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