The Unjust Steward (Matthew 18:21-35)
The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king
who decided to bring his accounts up to date (Living Bible)
There is an air finality and accountability about this whole episode. What happened was in keeping with the practice of eastern potentates who left their estates and finances in the hands of their chief steward while they were abroad. On their return there would be a review of the up-to-date situation. Eastern potoentates would be absent for long periods of time. The longer they were away, the greater the temptation for dishonest servants to line their own pockets at the expense of their masters.
In this case the chief steward had embezzled a sum running into millions, an incalculable and undischargeable debt punishable by torture, imprisonment, confiscation of property and the enslavement of the family. It is indeed small wonder that the culprit should "fall down before the king, his face in the dust, pleading for patience and pity". The real wonder however lies in the fact that the king pardoned him. The enormity of the transgression is more than matched by the unexpected response of the king.
The word used here to describe the depth of that forgiveness occurs only five times in the whole of the New Testament. It is the word exaleiphan, meaning "to obliterate, to wipe out from living memory, to clean the slate".
He covered the debt, forgave the transgression and let him go.
The kingdom of heaven is like that, the kingdom being God's rule and sovereignty in the life of the believer. The exaleiphan is granted in response to faith and repentance which is true sorrow for sin coupled with a desire to sin no more. The only other condition laid down here is that the steward treats others as the king has treated him.
The chief steward did not see it that way.
He had his own scale of values. He accepted the king's mercy without acknowledging the king's authority, the king's protection without the king's jurisdiction. His philosophy in life was to have the best of both worlds. He felt free to act according to his own wishes.
The experience of his recent escape from imprisonment and ruin did not deter him from following his own selfish agenda.
The truth of the matter appears to be that he did not take the king seriously at all. Obviously he did not appreciate the full significance of the royal mercy judging by the fact that he went out and ruined his neighbour over an unpaid debt of five pounds. In so doing, he brought upon himself the full force of the king's anger. Too late he realised that lack of respect for authority leads to mistaking mercy for softness, and liberty for licence.
Our Lord spoke in parables, Earthly stories that have a heavenly meaning. This parable clearly underlines the fact that God is King and we are stewards of his grace, a grace and mercy that must be reciprocated in our dealings with others. The love that he has shown to us must be reflected in our relationships with others. There is no room for double standard if we are to avoid the divine judgement on our actions.
Emil Brunner put it this way : "whoever runs against God's will, thinking that God is none of his concern, resembles a drunken driver who runs against a stone wall ; he is bound to crash". There are two clear messages here.
The first message is that we treat others as God has treated us. The servant is not above his Master. At the heart of out Christian faith is the immeasurable grace of God who has covered all our debts. We are set free from the awful judgement on our misdeeds through faith in his saving act on our behalf at Calvary. We forgive as we have been forgiven.
The second message is that this emphasis on divine grace must not lead us into the error of what Deitrich Bonhoeffer described as "cheap grace" - taking all the benefits and blessings divinely bestowed and failing to respond in responsible stewardship in our failure to appreciate that without the fruit of good deeds our faith is dead.
Like the unjust steward, we are in great danger of forgetting that the final reckoning comes swiftly and unexpectedly. The King will settle his affairs in his own good time. Accounts will be brought up to date. The divine seal upon all that we profess here on earth will take into account the royal imprimatur - "as you did it unto these, the least of my children, you did it unto me". This is the charter for every believer and no argument or prejudice from the self-righteous can ever set it aside.
The kingdom of heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date.
A Closing Prayer :
Heavenly Father, we seek your forgiveness for our failure to live up to the standards set for us, and which we expect from others : our slowness to see the good in others and the evil in ourselves : our reluctance to forgive as we have been forgiven : our hardness of heart when judging a neighbors fault and our readiness to excuse our own.
Merciful Lord, renew a right spirit within us. Cast us not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from us Restore unto us the joy of your salvation and give to each of us the strength of a willing spirit.
Amencopyright © 2004 Rev. W.L. Alford