Matthew 18

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Parables - part 4

Matthew 18:21-35

Whenever Jesus answers a question with a parable you can be sure that the question is not a good question.

The structure of the parable is simple:

  1. A man who served the king incurred an outrageous debt.
    1. Ten thousand is the largest number identifiable in ancient numerical systems. Other ways of describing numbers are required for larger sums. However, larger sums are not part of their common world.
    2. A talent is a measure of mass. When used with money, it refers to a “talent-weight” of gold or of silver. Since we do not know the metal or the going rate, it is hard to determine the exact value of 10,000 talents. Suffice to say that it is a lot!
    3. The amount is more of a debt than one person could incur. The man may be a debt collector who assumes the bad debts and sets out to collect them and covers his expenses with a percent of the collection. Of course he is liable for the debt if he doesn’t collect.
    4. Slavery (including his family) is the only option besides prison for this man.

  2. The response of the king is mercy.
    1. Mercy, or lack thereof, is the key virtue this parable.
    2. It is the theme of Matthew 18.
    3. It fits in Matthew’s gospel. See Matthew 9:13 and 12:7. Jesus believes it is important that the Pharisees understand the words “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
    4. The man is forgiven a debt he could never repay.

  3. The man goes out to collect a debt from someone who owes him.
    1. He does not show mercy to the man who owes him 100 denarii.
    2. A denarius is a Roman silver coin that was first minted in the 3rd century BC. It had the value of 10 assarion (a smaller bronze coin). So, the denarius is a sort of dime or ten dollar coin. It was the standard payment for a daily wage in the first century. Think of it as a sort of Roman “minimum wage.”
    3. The debt of 100 denarii could be reasonably paid off.
    4. The exchange rate between denarius and talent is hard to calculate since the talent is a measure of mass. Some estimate that the ratio of denarius to talent is 6000:1. Now multiply that by 10,000!

  4. The king reacts to the forgiven man’s lack of mercy. Why?
    1. The man’s lack of mercy shames the king’s mercy.
    2. Does he not reflect on the magnitude of grace that he has received?
Meaning: How can we limit forgiveness and mercy when we are aware of how much God has forgiven us and how merciful he has been? The parable pushes us to take seriously the outline of behavior explained in 18:15-20. Our goal should be reconciliation.

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 25 April 2010

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