Speaking in parables was one of Our Lord’s most effective methods of teaching. Our Lord had the ability to gain his listeners’ interest and involve them in the story’s drama. But Our Lord’s parables weren’t simply engaging stories—they reveal to us the love of God and the values of his eternal kingdom; and they inspire us to change our lives.
To bring a lesson home Our Lord often used exaggeration—a common Semitic practice—of contrasting opposites like wisdom and foolishness, generosity and stinginess. There’s no clearer instance of Our Lord’s use of exaggeration than in today’s parable about the unforgiving servant. The first servant who was forgiven a ridiculously enormous debt—the equivalent of 150,000 years’ wages—refused to cancel another man’s debt that equalled less than a hundred days’ wages. Although the servant acknowledged his own need for mercy, he didn’t allow that mercy to soften his heart. And the consequence for him was devastating.
The blunt ending of this story is a direct challenge for us to be just as forgiving to others as God has been to us. It also underscores what Our Lord told his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions” (Matthew 6:14-15). The lesson is plain: if we are not trying our best to be merciful, compassionate, and forgiving, then we will find it very hard to pray or to know God’s own love and mercy in our lives.
Lent offers us an opportunity to come to grips with our need for mercy and to let God’s mercy soften our hearts so that we can change the way we relate to the people in our lives. God doesn’t want us to hold a grudge or treat anyone unkindly. He doesn’t want to see our hearts darkened by bitterness or resentment. Rather, he wants his peace to rule us—and through us, to touch everyone around us.