In the last blog post, I asked, "How come we don't have to die when we forgive someone who sins against us?" But before we get into that question, I'd like to talk about why God punishes us for refusing to forgive our fellow sinners.
Let's go ahead and revisit Jesus' parable of the unforgiving servant (I told you He packed a lot into this one). As we discussed, sin is represented as debt in the parable. Servant A owed a debt to the Master who represents God. But Servant A wasn't the only servant who owed a debt. Servant B also owed a debt, but his debt was to Servant A. And this, of course, is the point of Jesus using this parable to answer Peter's question as to how many times we should forgive our brother for sinning against us. Servant A refused to offer Servant B the same mercy that the Master showed him. And that's the point. Servant A could've showed mercy and forgave Servant B his debt.
And here is where it gets... interesting (at least I think so). This whole parable is using the creditor/debtor relationship as a metaphor for forgiving sins. A creditor forgives a debt by transferring the debt from the debtor (servant/human) to the creditor (Master/God). The debt, as discussed, being sin which causes separation (Isa 59:2) which in turn causes death. Please remember that this "separation" is brought about by a failure to love. This type of separation means to be separated from Love and to be united with Sin. And, thus it means to be separated from Life and to be united with Death.
To avoid being united with Death a person has to do two things:
1) ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'
2) ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'
The second command is manifested in our actions towards others. We are to "do to others what you would have them do to you". (Mat 7:12)
In the parable, what Servant A wanted done to him was for the master to provide him more time for him pay back what he owed (Mat 18:26). Servant B also asked Servant A for more time (Mat 18:29), but Servant A refused to provide what he had wished for himself (Mat 18:30). In doing so, Servant A failed to love Servant B. In this way, Servant A sinned against Servant B. Servant A separated himself from Love and united himself with Death. Even though it's not clear that Servant B knew that he had been sinned against, we do know that when the Master did know about it, he took it personally.
Why did the Master take that personally?
Because in the parable the Master is God. And God is love (1Jo 4:8). To be separated from love is to be separated from God. It is to stop being the servant of God and to be the servant of Death. Servant A betrayed his Master.
"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." -1Jo 4:16
Servant A, by his actions, rejected the Master and sinned against the Master by sinning against one of His servants. Servant A showed who his true master was by allowing Sin to reign in his body and obeyed its evil desires (Rom 6:12). So the Master took action to avenge His servant, Servant B, (Mat 18:32-34, Rom 12:19) and to avenge himself (Isa 1:24).
We've discussed what a lot of the symbols in the parable mean. But let's talk about what the prison is.
"He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt." - Mat 18:30
The point of a prison is to confine criminals. To limit their freedom. It meant to separate law breakers from those who haven't. And, as we discussed, separation from God is death. Therefore, the prison is the abode of Death.
So, in the end, God hands them over to where they belong. By their actions God delivers them over to where they belong so that they can serve the master that they chose. It should be clear at this point that this parable is directed at Christians and those who claim to be Christian. So we should listen closely to this parable and this grave warning from Jesus.
"So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” - Mat 18:35