Year A 24th Sunday: Matthew 18:21-35 

18:21   Then Peter went up to him and said,

'Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?

As often as seven times?'

18:22   Jesus answered, 'Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.

18:23   ‘And so the kingdom of Heaven may be compared to a king

who decided to settle his accounts with his servants.

18:24   When the reckoning began, they brought him a man who owed ten thousand talents;

18:25   he had no means of paying, so his master gave orders that he should be sold,

together with his wife and children and all his possessions, to meet the debt.

18:26   At this, the servant threw himself down at his master's feet, with the words,

"Be patient with me and I will pay the whole sum."

18:27   And the servant's master felt so sorry for him that he let him go

and cancelled the debt.

18:28   Now as this servant went out, he happened to meet a fellow-servant

who owed him one hundred denarii;

and he seized him by the throat and began to throttle him, saying,

"Pay what you owe me."

18:29   His fellow-servant fell at his feet and appealed to him, saying,

"Be patient with me and I will pay you."

18:30   But the other would not agree; on the contrary,

he had him thrown into prison till he should pay the debt.

18:31   His fellow-servants were deeply distressed when they saw what had happened,

and they went to their master and reported the whole affair to him.

18:32   Then the master sent for the man and said to him,

"You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours when you appealed to me.

18:33   Were you not bound, then, to have pity on your fellow-servant

just as I had pity on you?"

18:34   And in his anger the master handed him over to the torturers

till he should pay all his debt.

18:35   And that is how my heavenly Father will deal with you

unless you each forgive your brother from your heart.'


This is the second part of Jesus’ Discourse to the Church. It deals with the question how often I have to forgive. Jesus uses a parable to illustrate his point of view: think how often the Lord has to forgive you; so treat others as He does with you. The parable is framed by the words ‘forgive my/your brother’ (vss.21 and 35). Theme words are ‘giving back’ (‘apo-didoomi’; the translation gives several different words: vss.25[2x]. and ‘slave’ (the translation gives ‘servant’; remember: the slave was the mirror of the master: vss.


One talent is 35 kilograms,or some 77 lbs in English. Try to find out how much money that is. Ten thousand talents is a dizzying amount. What must that slave have done to build up such a debt?

It is not clear how much a denary was. I think 3 daily wages. In the parable of the vineyard  (20:2) the master offers one denary for one day of working. That offer has to be compared with heaven, as a recompense for good behaviour. So it must be more than a normal daily wage; hence I think one denary compares to at least 3 days of working. In that case the fellow slave owes his colleague an annual wage, a large amount.

In vs.26 the slave asks his master, ‘Be patient...’ (vs.26). A better translation would be ‘be long-suffering with me.’ He gets much more than that: the master is ‘stirred in the deepest of his intestines’ (vs.27: the translation gives, ‘felt sorry’); there the Greek gives a word which is used in the Bible for God and Jesus only; it is the source of God’s compassion, grace and forgiveness. The fellow slave of the forgiven man says the same words as he himself used, ‘Be patient!’ (‘be long-suffering’). His master rebukes the forgiven slave; he should have forgiven his fellow slave as the master had forgiven him.  The master says that he should have had ‘pity’ (33). There the Greek text uses a third word (‘eleein’), the same word as we use in the liturgy ‘Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.’

So the slave asks for ‘long-suffering’; he gets the divine emotion that his master is stirred in the deepest of his intestines. He should have followed his master by having ‘mercy’ on his fellow slave.

Picture Meditation

The artist places Jesus in the lower right corner, and Peter (in orange) and other disciples in the upper left corner. Between them we see the parable Jesus is telling, to illustrate that we have to forgive seventy times seven times (‘till one is blue in the face’).

In the upper wave we see how the king wants to sell the slave (in red and green) with his wife (in yellow) and children. And how the slave is begging the king for long-suffering. The artist adds the person of a nurse as a witness.

In the second wave the fellow slave is begging for long-suffering in his turn, but our forgiven slave doesn’t have mercy. He takes his victim to jail. The nurse is always around.

At the end of the second wave our forgiven but not forgiving slave promises his wife (in yellow) and children that better times will arrive. No nurse!

In the third wave he is brought back before the king. The nurse is there again. And transported into jail; with the nurse. At last we see his nude bottom in the flames.

Who am I in his picture? Do I see myself as a slave before his master, called to be his mirror?

Did I ever experience the grace of forgiveness? And the experience how difficult it is to forgive others, because forgiving has always to do with pain?

Was I ever in the situation of the nurse witnessing how others did or did not forgive? What did that with me?

I finish with a talk with the forgiven and not forgiving slave; with the fellow slave who did not receive forgiveness; with the king; with Jesus’ disciples; with Jesus...

And I have a talk with each of the pictured people.

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J