Our Lord teaches us a profound lesson in today’s parable. This man had fallen to his knees and begged for mercy. He had humbled himself in the hopes that his master would give him time to repay his debt and save his family from ruin. But then, when his master did have mercy on him, it seems he just picked himself up, dusted himself off, and went on his merry way, quite oblivious to the great generosity he had received. How else can we explain the heartless way in which he treated a fellow servant who owed him far less than he had owed?
The problem with this unmerciful servant was he didn’t let the mercy he had received enter into his heart, and so when he was called upon to forgive the debt of a neighbour, he had no mercy to share.
Our Lord’s parable highlights the difference between the mind and the heart, between acknowledging a fact and embracing the truth behind the fact. Of course the servant understood that he had been forgiven his debt. The facts were there, and he couldn’t dispute them. He probably felt a good deal of relief too, when his master wrote off the entire debt. But for some reason, this man didn’t let the kindness and mercy behind his master’s decision sink into his heart.
Our Lord gives his parable quite a chilling conclusion: “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother (or sister) from your heart” (Mt. 18:35). There are real consequences to our decisions in the spiritual realm just as in the earthly realm. But Our Lord isn’t trying to threaten us into conformity. Rather, he is pleading with us to let the reality of divine mercy—the warm, embracing, comforting experience of our Father’s love—to sink into our hearts. Our Lord is pleading with us not to let our lives or the world around us descend into the cold calculation behind objective demands for judgment without mercy or love.
And so it’s up to each of us. Can we let God’s mercy enter our hearts and transform us into vessels of mercy? At the end of the day this is all it will take for us to change the world.