The servant owed 10,000 talents (18:24). The footnote on talent in 18:24 in the ESV is "A talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer." Thus, 10,000 talents = 200,000 years wages, a hopeless amount to pay back. Yet, he said, "Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything." (18:26) Is his failure to forgive his fellow servant influenced by his failure to recognize and receive his master's forgiveness? That is, he wanted 100 denarii his fellow servant owed to pay on his 10,000-talent debt. 100 denarii = 100 days wages << one talent. This passage definitely teaches the need to forgive others (18:20-12), but does it also teach the hopelessness of earning salvation by our own labor.
As with most of Jesus' well-designed parables, the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35) has lessons on numerous levels. I agree that 10,000 talents was worth about 200,000 years' wages (depending on the talent was gold or silver), but that matters little to main point that the two sums of money were vastly different - one impossibly huge and the other a common sum.
In any case, the following points can be drawn from the this parable in Matt 18:21-35:
- According to the context of the exchange with Peter, the focus of the parable (V21, 22) is about forgiveness and its effects on the person and how much we need to imitate God in this regard.
- When the master ordered that all the man's possessions (V25), including his family be sold, it would have certainly failed to raise the sum of 10,000 talents. The man was absolutely bankrupt. (The total income of the wealthy Solomon was less money than this, just 666 talents per year, 1 Kings 10:14, 2 Chron 9:13.)
- V26 - the fact that the man thought he could repay such a huge sum suggests that he is seriously deluded. This is one of the main points of the parable - the psychological effect of legalism (one who believes he can earn his own way to heaven) makes a person grossly overestimate their ability to keep the law!! We have no hope of attaining righteousness adequate for the God's kingdom.
- V27 - the master forgave the debt. However, because the man did not appreciate how large the sum of money was (his legalistic attitude blinded him), he was harsh. There is a direct connection between these two in the parable.
- V28, 29 - the lack of appreciation of how much he had been forgiven had a direct bearing on how he treated others
- V32-34 - the master rebukes the servant because he had not displayed the same kindness to others as he had received himself.
General ideas from this parable
- If we reject God's forgiveness, we are required to pay our own debt (an impossible task) and thus rejecting Jesus' atonement means we pay our own wages of sin, eternal death (Rom 6:23)
- The servant was rebuked for not being forgiving because he had been forgiven. That is, unless we accept the huge price Jesus paid for our redemption, we will be harsh with others. Put another way, kindness springs from a sense of our own hopeless situation. Jesus summed this up when he said to Simon at the dinner party (Luke 7:47):
Therefore I tell you, because her many sins have been forgiven, she has loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”
Note that we have all been forgiven much and should love (and forgive) much but many do not appreciate the huge amount they have been forgiven and so "love little".
Jesus makes the same point in other places as well -
- Col 3:13 - Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
- Matt 6:12 - And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
- Eph 4:32 - Be kind and tenderhearted to one another, forgiving each other just as in Christ God forgave you.
Lastly, the parable has psychological aspect - the effect of legalism = salvific self sufficiency, on a person's outlook is dramatic - they become cruel, harsh, unforgiving.