The Unforgiving Servant - Retold

by Rev. M. Gayle MacDonald

Text: Matthew 18:21-35

may be used in a worship/sermon context for Sept 12/99 or with persmission -- Note: there may be typo's, let me know if you "catch" any.

He knew it, Aham knew it! The day of reckoning was finally here! He had tried to tell himself that it didn’t matter if he spent more than he earned. It didn’t matter if each year, each month he owed more than the year or the month before. He figured “owe a little, owe a lot, what’s the difference?”

The truth of the matter was, and is, this: Aham had a serious problem--and the problem wan’t money--it was priorities. His problem was with what he thought was important. Aham longed to be rich and respected and feared like the king--or a least to be respected like some of the richer land owners around him.

Aham saw how the king dressed, and how the king’s wife and children dressed--in clothes made of fine cloth from countries far away and with splendid jewellery he had made for them. Aham saw how the king was admired as he rode about in his splendid clothes. Aham heard how people spoke in kind and admiring tones about the king’s generosity--for he was lenient in collecting what he was owed from people who were having a hard time making ends meet. More than anything Aham wanted to be loved and admired like the king. So Aham imitated the king (or so he thought) as best he could.

When Aham married, he married the beautiful daughter of a fairly well-off merchant. Aham showered her with gifts when he courted her and he brought gifts to her father who was pleased to have his daughter marry someone who could provide so well for her. He had assumed Aham was very properous. He did not know that Aham was spending all his savings and part of his meagre inheritance to impress his future father-in-law.

Aham built a fine house, which wasn’t hard to do, because he had some carpentry skills and some people owed him a favour or two. Aham filled the new home with expensive furniture. Each year he managed to pay for all the things his new wife wanted--and then the things his wife and family needed and wanted. They dressed well, they ate well, his children had good tutors, his wife had help at home with the chores.

Aham did not tell his wife that he worked two jobs to pay for things--or that her tastes were too expenseive for his income--or that when his sons were old enough he would like them to work to help pay expenses. He couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth.

He couldn’t tell his friends and co-workers the truth--the ones who saw him every day. They all admired Aham’s ability to handle his money so well. They admired his ability to give his wife and children such fine things. Every once in a while, one of the other men would run into some trouble through no fault of their own--they needed something they had no money for--like a midwife for their wife in labour, or a new cart because the old one had collapsed and they had not yet received their wages from the harvest. Aham would offer them a small loan. The men were always grateful. They admired him. Aham liked being admired.

They did not know he really had no money to lend them--that the money he gave them was the king’s tithe--and that each year he was deeper in debt. They did not know that every so often he slipped away and pleaded to king’s accountant’s for a small loan or two of his own--that each year he was deepr and deeper in debt and was losing all hope of getting out. He had not paid taxes in many years--so long, he had almost fogotten that he owed them.

And now here he was, before the king and the king was asking him to give account of his money. He was being asked to “cough up” everything he owed or be sold as a common slave along with his wife and children. His wife didn’t even know how ordinary a servant he was. All the double time he worked for extra money, she thought it was because he was sitting on a council seat, or was being sought after for advice by the many men who admired him.

Aham was beside himself. What would happen to him and to his family? More important (to Aham at least), what would people say when they found out the truth? He was afraid of being sold. He was embarrassed to tears at having everything about him exposed. He was totally humiliated for he had no way to pay the king. He told the king of all the money he had loaned to others. He got down on his knees and pleaded for mercy. If he could have died from humiliation on the spot, he would have.

Though he did not say so, the king was acutally pleased that the money borrowed, part or all of it, had been used to help others less fortunate. This poor man seemed, to the king, to have a generous heart. Maybe he had suffered enough alaready. Maybe there would be no fear of having to call him in again. Maybe he could budget a little better--and if he had helped others, then at least his heart was in the right place.

The king told the poor, sobbing Aham to get up. He told him to forget it--his debts were paid. He could start again new, with a clean slate. Just go home, he told him and go back to work tomorrow. Your debt is forgiven you.

Aham left, still shaking from fright; still stinging with embarassment. He scolded himself all the way home. He was angry with himself for overspending. However, he did not stay angry at himself for long. He soon directed it at others. He began to think that only if he hadn’t loaned to this one or that one, or if only this one or that one had paid him back, he wouldn’t have had to be so embarrassed in front of the king whom he had admired all his life. He forgot that it wouldn’t matter whether or not he got paid the small amounts owed him--his debt was huge and went back many years. Right now he convinced himself that if John and Joseph had not borrowed from him last week, he would have had something to give the king and wouldn’t have had to beg for mercy.

Aham looked up and saw John coming towards him. Idignant at what had happenedd, filled with embarassed anger, Ahame flew towards John in rage. He seized him by the throat and asked to be repaid then and there. Startled and dismayed, John reminded him he had only received the loan a few days ago. The harvest was two weeks away.

Aham’s anger was turning to rage. Out poured all the years he wanted to say to his wife, “Don’t spend so much, I’m not that weel off”, and all the years he wanted to say, “We need to budget a little better so I can work fewer hours”; and all the times he wished he had had the courage to tell people he had no money to lend, he was behind on his taxes, he was just the same as they were. All the years of pretending to be generous, when what he really wanted was the riches to pay off his own debts--it all came pouring out on poor John.

Aham yelled and screamed at the king’s soldiers (who were a little way off) to come immediately. John fell to his knees and pleaded with Aham not to do this. He begged for mercy just as Aham had done not an hour before. But there was no mercy to be had. Aham did not understand mercy any more than he had understood the true nature of generosity. His need to be admired was too great for the understanding of mercy or forgiveness or generosity or even his own anger--the source of it and his responsibility for it. Unable to understand the gift of forgiveness he had been given and unable to give it to others, Aham had finally come undone.


Admaston Pastoral Charge - United Church of Canada
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