On the Wicked Servant

Homily of Saint John Chrysostom on Matthew 28.23-35

1. For the attainments of this virtue (contempt of anger) time is not a necessity; labour is not a necessity; money is not needed. To will alone suffices, and then all that relates to this virtue will prosper. And in meditating on the authority of God Who ordains and commands us to practise this virtue, we shall receive sufficient instruction and counsel concerning it: for what we are about to say to you is not our teaching; we but lead you all into the Presence of the Lawgiver. Follow me therefore and give ear to His divine laws.

Where then does He speak of anger and of the remembrance of injuries? Often; here and elsewhere, but especially in this parable, which He spoke to His Disciples, beginning in this way: Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a man king who would take an account of his servants. And, when he had begun to take the account, one was brought to him that owed him ten thousand talents. And, as he had not wherewith to pay it, his lord commanded that he should be sold, and his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. But that servant falling down besought him, saying: Have patience with me and I will pay thee all. And the lord of that servant, being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt. But, when that servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow servants that owed him an hundred pence; and laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest, And his fellow servant, falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me and I will pay thee all. And he would not; but went and cast him into prison till he paid the debt. Now his fellow servants, seeing what was done, were very much grieved; and they came and told their lord all that was done. Then his lord called him and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt, because thou besoughtest me; shouldst not thou then have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee? And his lord, being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid the debt. So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.

2. This then is the parable. Next we must speak of why He begins this parable with a reference to its occasion. He does not say simply: The kingdom of heaven is likened, but: Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened, etc. Why is the cause added? He had earlier been speaking to His Disciples on the virtue of forbearance, teaching them how anger must be kept down, and that we are not to make anything of injuries inflicted on us by others, and in these words: If thy brother shall offend against thee, go and rebuke him between thee alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother (v. 15). And while He was saying these and similar things to His Disciples, teaching them true wisdom, Peter, the leader of the company of the Apostles, the mouthpiece of the Disciples, the pillar of the Church, the prop of the Faith, the foundation of our Confession, the Fisherman of the world, who has led our race from the darkness of error to heaven, ever fervent, ever filled with confidence, and more filled with love than with confidence, while the others remain silent, drawing close to the Master, he says: How often shall by brother offend against me, and I forgive him? Till seven times seven? At one and the same time he both asks and as it were pledges himself; and even before he learns the answer, he is eager to be generous. For knowing clearly the mind of the Master, that it was inclined towards mercy and compassion, and that he pleased Him most who was the most prompt to forgive offences, not brooding on them in bitterness, and wishing to please the Lawmaker, he says: Even till seven times?

Then, that you might learn what manner of man He was, what manner of God, and the measure of His compassion, and how human generosity compared with it is poorer than all poverty, and human goodness a drop in the boundless sea compared with His ineffable love for men, then to Peter asking, till seven times, and thinking he was saying something great and generous, listen to what He answers: I say not to thee, till seven times, but till seventy times seven times. Some think that this seventy times seven means seven and seventy times. But this is not so. The number we have here is almost five hundred: for seventy times seven is four hundred and ninety. And do not think, Beloved, that this commandment is hard to fulfil. For if you forgive a man who injures you once, twice, and even thrice in a day, even if he were made of stone, even if he were fiercer than the demons, this man who offends you, he will not be so void of feeling that he will again commiit the same offence, but rather, learning restraint from this repeated forgiveness, will become milder and more temperate. And you, if you have been taught to think nothing of injuries so often repeated against you, by first once, then twice, then three times forgiving him, you will then feel little difficulty in continuing in this wisdom. For you who have so often forgiven injuries have acquired the habit of forgiveness, so that you are no longer troubled by your neighbour’s injuries against you.

Peter hearing this stood amazed, open-mouthed with astonishment; thinking not only of himself, but of those who were to be entrusted to him. And lest he should do now as he had done on hearing previous commands, the Lord, in anticipation, cuts off further questioning. What was it Peter had done in the case of others of the Lord’s Commands? Whenever Christ had commanded something of this kind, which seemed to Peter to present some difficulty, speaking at once before the others, he would begin to question and argue about the command. As when the rich man approached, questioning Him about eternal life, and learning what he must to to attain blessedness, went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions. Upon Christ saying that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven (Mark 10.25), Peter, though he had stripped himself of all things, and had not kept back even a fish-hook, since he held as nothing neither his boat nor his entire calling as a fisherman, coming to Christ, says to Him: Who then can be saved? See the honesty of this Disciple; and his fervour. He did not say: ‘You are imposing what is impossible,’ or ‘This is a heavy commandment; this is a difficult law.’ Neither did he remain silent, but, revealing the anxiety he felt for all of them, he shows at the same time the reverence due to the Teacher from His Disciple, saying: Who then can be saved?

He had not yet become a shepherd, but he had the soul of a shepherd. He had not yet been given supreme authority, but he had an anxiety befitting a ruler; thinking of the whole world. For if he had been rich, and surrounded by wealth, he would perhaps have said that he asked, not for others, but because he was anxious for himself and his friends and possessions. But now poverty frees him from this concern, and shows him as anxious for others’ salvation, caring for them, and wishing to learn from his Teacher the way of salvation. Because of this, Christ, to awaken his confidence, tells him that things that are impossible with men, are possible with God (Mark 10.25). And, He says, lest you should think you are to be deserted, I also shall put My hands to your effort, and shall make difficult things easy and even pleasant.

Again, when Christ was speaking of marriage and of a wife and saying: Whosoever shall put away his wife excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery (Mt 5.32), and warning that all the wife’s wickedness had to be endured, fornication alone excepted, Peter, while the others keep silent, says to Christ: If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry (Mt 19.10).

And here also, while he preserves a fitting reverence for the Master, he is at the same time solicitous for the salvation of others, not thinking of himself. Therefore, lest he should say something of this kind, the Lord answers his contradiction, anticipating it by a parable. This is the reason why the Evangelist says: Therefore is the kingdom of heaven, etc.; showing that He therefore speaks this parable that you may learn that, although you forgive your brother his sins against you seven times in a day, you have yet done nothing wonderful, and that you are still immeasurably distant from the clemency of the Lord, and that you have not so much given as received.

3. Let us then hear the parable which, though it seems clear, contains nevertheless a certain hidden and ineffable treasury of reflections. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened to a man king who would take an account of his servants. In order that we may not appear to simply pass over these words, but may unfold and explain the nature of His judgment, entering into your conscience, go over in your mind all the deeds of your whole life, and, when you hear of the Lord taking an account with His servant, reflect that by this word, servants, He means kings and rulers and princes, rich, poor, slaves, and free; every kind of men; all are referred to here: For we must all be manifested before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5.10). And if you are rich, think of the account you must give; whether you have given your money to harlots, or to the poor; whether to parasites, to flatterers, or to those in need; whether you have spent it in licentiousness, or on humanity; on luxury, dissipation and drunkienness, or on helping the afflicted.

He will demand an account not only of what we have spent, but also of the manner in which we have acquired our gain: whether by our own just labours, or by robbery, or by covetousness; whether by inheritance, or by the ruin of the homes of orphans, the plundering of widows. For just as we exact from theose who serve us an account not only of what has gone out, but also of what has come in, verifying from where the money came, through whom, in what manner, how much they received, so God demands of us an account, not only of what we have expended, but also of what we have received and how we received it. And not only the rich, but even the poor must give an account of their poverty; whether they have borne it nobly and thankfully, or angrily complaining against Providence, when they see others revelling in pleasures and themselves in want.

For as an account of their almsgiving is required of the rich, so from the poor shall be required an account of their patience; and not only of their patience, but also of their almsgiving: for poverty is no hindrance to almsgiving; as witness the poor widow in the Gospel, who casting her two mites into the treasure, hath cast in more than all they who have cast into the treasury (Mk 12.43). Not only shall the rich and the poor be scrupulously examined, but also ruler and judges, as to whether or not they have corrupted justice, whether they have given judgment in disputes with favour or with enmity, whether they have flattered and given judgment against the right, or whether remembering offences they have dealt spitefully with those who had done no wrong.

Not alone must worldly rulers given an account, so also must they who rule the Church give an account of their rule; and it is these especially who shall suffer a more grievous, a more bitter chastisement. For he to whom the ministry of the word has been given, will there be diligently examined as to whether he has neglected to say what he should have said or to do what he should have done, either because of cowardice, or through ill will or jealousy; and nothing will be hidden which concerns him. Again, he who has attained to the office of bishop, the greater his responsibility, the more will he be subject to an account, not only of his teaching and the care of the poor, but also of his examination of those who are to be ordained and a thousand other things. And Paul, writing to Timothy, makes this clear: Impose not hands lightly upon any man; neither be partakers of other men’s sins (1Tim 5.22); and, writing to the Hebrews of these same spiritual rulers, he makes us fearful for another reason: Obey your prelates and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls; that they may do this with joy and not with grief (Heb 13.17).

And we shall render an account, not only of our deeds but also of our words. For just as we, when we entrust money to servants, we ask an account of everything, so will God require of us an account of the words He has entrusted to us; of how we have expended them. Let us ask ourselves and examine ourselves scrupulously, as to whether we have spent them rashly or foolishly; for money foolishly expended does not do so much harm as rash and foolish words, spoken without need. For money foolishly spent may sometimes do harm, but speech imprudently used may bring sadness to whole families and undo and ruin souls. The loss of money can be made good; but the word once gone for can never be recalled.

That you may learn of the penalties attached to words, listen to what Christ says: But I say unto you, that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall render an account for it in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified; and by thy words thou shalt be condemned (Mt 12.36, 37). Not alone shall we render an account of our own words, but also of those we hear; as should you accept a false accusation criminally made against a brother: Thou shalt not receive the voice of a lie (Ex 23.1). And if they who receive a lying report will not receive pardon, what excuse will slanderers and betrayers have?

4. And why speak of words and of things heard, when we must also render an account of our very thoughts? Paul himself declaring this says: Therefore judge not before time; until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the heart (1Cor 4.15). And the singer of the Psalms says: For the thought of man shall give praise to thee (75.11). What does this mean, the thought of man shall give praise to thee? It is as when you speak with guile and with an evil mind to a brother; praising him with the mouth and tongue, while in your mind you think evil of him and envy him. And Christ, implying this truth, declares that we shall be punished, not onlyfor our dees, but also for our thoughts: Whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her, hath already committed adultery with her in his heart (Mt 5.28). And this sin has not burst into act, but is so far in the mind only. But not for long can he remain blameless, who so looks upon the shape of a woman that the desire of fornication arises within him.

When therefore you hear that the Lord would take an account of his servants, do not lightly pass over these words, but understand them as spoken of every age, of every nature, of men and women. Think of the majesty of the judgment seat. Think upon all the sins you have committed. For though you may have forgotten what you have done, God will never forget, and shall bring them before our eyes, unless we now in this present time make peace with Him through repentance and full confession of our sins and the wiping away or all our offences against God.

And why does He take this account? It is certainly not because He does not know all these things: for how can He not know them Who knowest all things before they come to pass (Dan 13.42). He takes it in order to persuade you His servant, that you are truly and really indebted to Him; so that you may not only learn this but that you may also wipe out your debt. It was for this He commanded the prophet to speak to the Jews of their sins. Show, He said, the house of Israel their iniquities and the house of Israel their sins (Is 58.1). Not only that they might learn of them, but also that they might correct them.

And when he had begun to take the account, one was brought to him that owed him ten thousand talents. For whatever had been entrusted to him, so much he had spent. And not only was there danger for him in this, but in this also: that he was the first to be brought before the Master. For had he been brought before Him after many others, who had been honest and fair, it would not have been surprising if the Master were not angry with him. For the honesty of those who preceded him, would have made the Master more mildly disposed towards all defaulters. But the first to appear before Him was so conscienceless in meeting his obligations, and afterwards was to reveal himself as so unjust, that for him to chance upon so humane and generous a Master was a special cause for wonder and surprise. For mostly when men are creditors they become like those who hunt wild beasts or game, and they will do all they can to get back whatever is owed them. And if they fail in this, because of the poverty of their debtors, they vent their anger at the loss of their money upon the miserable bodies of the poor wretches, abusing them and beating them and tormenting them in all kinds of ways. But God moves all things, tries all things, to free this man from his debt. For us to regain a debt means riches; with God to forgive us means our enrichment. When we recover what men owe us we are then wealthier; but whenever God forgives us our offences, then does He truly enrich us: for the riches of God is the salvation of men, as Paul says: He is rich unto all that call upon him (Rom 10.12).

But someone will say, why then, if He intended to forgive and wipe out the charges against him, does He command that he be sold? It is this especially that shows His love for mankind. But let us not go too fast here; let us proceed in due order with the statement of the parable: And, as he had not wherewith to pay it. What does this mean: and, he had not wherewith to pay it? Again you see a straining of good feeling. For when He says, not having wherewith to pay, he is saying nothing other than that he was wholly destitute of every virtue, and did not possess a single good work that could be imputed to him towards the remission of his sins: for virtuous actions are wholly imputed to us for the forgiveness of our sins; just as faith is imputed to justice: For to him that worketh not, yet believeth in him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is reputed to justice (Rom 4.5).

And why speak of faith and virtuous actions, when even our tribulations are imputed to us for the pardon of our sins? This Christ declares by the parable of Lazarus, bringing Abraham before us as saying to the rich man, that Lazarus was now comforted, because he had received many evil things in his life (Lk 16.25). And Pau, writing to the Corinthians, says of the fornicator: Deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved (1Cor 6.5). And consoling others who had sinned, he speaks in this way: Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you; and many sleep. But, if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But, while we are judged, we are chastised by the Lord, that we be not condemned with this world (1Cor 11.20-32).

But if temptation, madness, sickness and the destruction of the flesh, which we suffer unwillingly now, are imputed to us unto forgiveness of our sins, much more will not the works of virtue which we do willing and with fervour. But this man was wholly destitute of good. The burden of his sins was unbearable. And because of this He says: And, as he had not wherewith to pay it, his Lord commanded that he should be sold. It is at this point in particular that one can begin to perceive fully the humanity of the Lord, and why He began to take an account, and why He commanded that His servant should be sold. For these things were done in order that he might not be sold into slavery. How can this be shown? From the outcome. For had He truly wished to sell him, what was to prevent him; who could oppose Him?

5. Why then did He command him to be sold, when in His own mind He had no intention of doing so? In order to increase his fears. He increases his fears by means of a threat; to compel him to humble himself in supplication, so that He might then have reason to forgive him. He could, even before he besought Him, have freed this man from this debt, but this He did not do for frea that he might become worse. Even before He began to take an account He could have granted him forgiveness, but in order that he might admit the great mass of his crimes; and so that he might not become even more evil, more inhuman to his neigbours, He first brings home to him the amount of his debt, and then forgives them all. So an account is demanded, and his debt is revealed, and then he is threatened, and his condemnation is indicated: and truly merited because of his cruelt and fierceness to his own fellow servant: but if nothing of all this had been done, how could he possibly have escaped condemnation because of his inhumanity? And so God does all these things and took such pains with him in order to correct his harshness. If he was not corrected by this, the fault must lie, not with the Master, but with the man himself; refusing correction. Let us now see how the Lord cleans out the ulcer.

But that servant falling down besought him, saying: have patience with me and I will pay thee all. He does not say that he has nothing to pay. But here, as is the way with those who are in debt and desperation, he promises anything that will get him out of the peril he is in.

Let us learn from this how careless we are in our own prayer, and also how great is the power of fervent imploring prayer. Even fasting has not shown us this, nor poverty nor anything of this nature; but here was a man, helpless, void of all virtue, yet when he cried out in fervent supplication to his Maker, by this act alone, he was able to obtain mercy. Let us therefore never fail in prayer. For who was more sin hardened than this man, who more laden with crimes, against whom were such accusations made than against this man, who through the works of virtue had gained neither little nor much? Yet notwithstanding all this he did not say to himself: ‘I am afraid to open my mouth; I am filled with shame; how can I draw near to God? How can I pray?’ as many sinners will, weakened in purpose by the fear the devil creates in them.

You do not presume to speak? Then for this very reason draw near to Him so that you may gain confidence. For it is not with a man you wish to be reconciled, that you should falter and be ashamed. It is God Himself, Who more even that you desires that you shall be delivered from your sins. You do not wish for your own deliverance more than He desires your salvation. And He teaches us this by His works. Are you without confidence? Then for this very reason, have confidence; because you are in this state of mind. For this is the greatest confidence: to believe that you have no confidence: just as it is most shameful to think of yourself as justified before the Lord. Such a one remains unjustified, whoever he is; even were he the holiest of men. So also he becomes just before the Lord who believes himself the lowest of men. And both the Pharisee and the Publican bear witness to the truth of their words.

Therefore let us not be despondent because of our sins, nor despairing; but let us draw near to God, and falling down before Him, let us call upon Him, as this man did, until His mind id favourable to us. Do not grow weak of soul, do not despair, confess your sins, ask for delay, for time to amend, for compunction, for a humble and contrite heart (Ps 50), and all such good things. The graces which then follow are not like the first; those gained through supplication he had squandered away through his anger against his neighbour. But meanwhile let us return to the manner of this pardon. Let us see the nature of this remission and by what means the Master came to it.

And the Lord of that servant, being moved with pity, let him go and forgave him the debt. He asks for delay, and the Lord forgives him the debt; so that he receives more than he had asked for. Because of this Paul says: To him who is able to do all things more abundantly than we desire or understand (Eph 3.20). For you cannot conceive such things as He has made ready to give you. So be not ashamed nor blush, rather, be ashamed of your sins; do not despair, cease not from praying; but, sinner that you are, draw near that you may be reconciled to the Lord, that you may give Him the opportunity of showing His humanity in pardoning your sins. Because if you fear to draw near, you stand in the way of His goodness, you limit the abundance of His loving kindness in your favour.

Let us then not lose heart, nor be slothful or timid in prayer. Even if we have been brought down to the depths of evil, prayer can speedily draw us back. For no one has sinned as this man had: he had fallen into every kind of wickedness; for this is what the ten thousand talents mean. No one is so wanting in virtue as he was; and this we understand from the fact that he had not wherewith to pay. Yet however abandoned and destitute he was, the power of prayer was able to deliever him.

Has prayer then, someone will ask, the power to deliver a man from correction and retribution who has offended the Lord by countless evil deeds? Yes; it has this power, O man. For it is not alone in accomplishing this, but has as its most powerful help and ally the great loving kindness of God Himself, Who receives our prayers, by Whose power all things are accomplished, and which makes our prayer efficacious. And Jesus implies this when He goes on to say: And the Lord of that servant, being moved to pity, let him go and forgave him the debt, that you might learn that before prayer and after prayer it is the compassion of the Master does all.

But when the servant was gone out, he found one of his fellow servants that owed him an hundred pence; and laying hold of him he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest. What could there be more abominable than this? With the voice of forgiveness still sounding in his ears, he has forgotten the loving kindness of the Master.

6. See what a good thing it is to be mindful of your own sins. Had this man kept them clearly in remembrance, he would not have been so cruel, so inhuman. Therefore again I say to you, and I shall not cease from saying it, that it is truly most profitable and most necessary, to keep clearly before us the remembrance of our own offences. For there is nothing makes the soul so truly wise, so truly gentle and compassionate, as the continuous remembrance of our own sins. Because of this Paul also was mindful not only of the sins committed after purification, but also of those committed before baptism; thous all had once and for all been wiped out and destroyed. And if he kept in mind the sins he had committed before baptism, much more should we remember them. For, remembering them, we not only wipe them away, but through this practice of humility we grow milder towards all men and being to serve God with more fervour and good will: coming through this humble remembrance of our own sins, to understand better His ineffable compassion for us.

But this the wicked servant in the parable did not do, but forgetful of the magnitude of his own debt, he also forgets the compassion his Lord had shown him. And through this forgetfulness of His compassion, he becomes cruel towards his own fellow-servant. And in his wickedness he loses all he had gained through the goodness of God. For, laying hold of him, he throttled him, saying: Pay what thou owest. He did not say: ‘Pay me my hundred pence.’ It would have shamed him to mention such a small sum. But he says: Pay what thou owest. And the other falling down, besought him, saying: Have patience with me and I will pay thee all.

He prays to be spared with the very same words by which the wicked servant had himself obtained forgiveness. But he is not moved from his cruelty by these words. He does not even recal that it was through these very words he was saved. And if he were to forgive him, it would not be through humanity, but for payment of the debt. Had he forgiven him before the taking of the account and before he had himself received such a great favour, this would have been ascribed to his own goodness of heart. Now however, after receiving such an undeserved gift, and after being forgiven so many sins, he should have shown a like forbearance to his fellow servant. But he did not, nor did the thought of forgiveness enter his mind, nor the thought of how great was the difference between the favour he had received from his lord, and the harshness he had shown to his fellow servant. You see here a vast difference not only in the greatness of the debt, and in the dignity of the persons concerned, but also in the manner in which both events took place. For the one owes a debt of ten thousand talents, the other a hundred pence. The first had grievously offended his Master, this other wa merely obliged by a fellow servant. The one now so fortunate ought to have been kind in turn; for the Lord, though seeing nothing of good in him, great or little, has forgiven him all. But he does not think of this; but at once, blind with anger, throttles his fellow servant and throws him into prison.

His fellow servants seeing this were very much grieved, as the Scripture records, and denounced him to the Master so that he might learn mildness from the Master. The Master hearing this, calls the wicked servant again to judgment; and does not simply condemn him, but first rightly rebukes him; in these words: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt.

Who could be kinder than this Lord, Who when owed then thousand talents, does not say a word in anger or call the servant a villain, but orders him to be sold: and this to the end that he might be delivered from his debt. But when he in turn treated his fellow servant so wickedly, the Lord was angry, and provoked to punish: that you might learn that He is more tolerant towards those who offend against Himself that towards those who sin against their neighbour. And this He shows not only here, but elsewhere: If therefore, He says, thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; go first and be reconciled to thy brother; and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift (Mt 5.23, 24). You see how everyhwere He places our affairs before His, that He may put peace and the love of our neighbour in the highest places.

And again in another place He says: I say to you that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the case of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery; and that he that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery (Mt 5.32). And through Paul He also decreed that: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not and she consent to dwell with him; let him not put her away (1Cor 7.12). If she is an adulteress, he says, let him put her away; if she believeth not, let him not put her away. If she has sinned against thee, cut her off, He says; if she has sinned against Me, retain her. So here likewise, although this sinner had committed such grievous sins against Himself, He forgave him. But when he committed sins against his fellow servant, though these were lesser and fewer, He does not forgive him; but delivers him up to punishment.

And now he calls him a wicked servant, though before this He had not uttered a word in anger against him. And He goes on to add these words: And his lord, being angry, delivered him to the torturers. When He had asked him to give an account of the debt of ten thousand talents, He had added nothing like this: that you may understand that this account was not looked for in anger, but out of concern that would in turn lead to forgiveness. But this sin against a neighbour provokes Him grievously. What therefore can be worse than remembrance of past injuries, since it takes back from us the loving compassion of God, and since that which his others sins did not do, this anger against a neighbour now brings about? But is it not written that God does not repent of His gifts? (Rom 11.29) How then, after giving him this great favour, which he had not merited, and after showing him such kindness and compassion, does He now recall His forgiveness of the debt? Because of this remembrance of injury. So he truly does not err who says that this sin is more grievous than every other sin. For all other sins, men can seek forgiveness; for this alone they cannot obtain forgiveness, and what is more it brings back upon our heads other sins which had once and for all been wiped away.

The evil of remembering past offences is twofold: it is inexcusable before God, and it serves to recall past sins already forgiven, and places them against us. And this is what happened here. For nothing, nothing whatsoever does God so hate, and turn away from, as cherishing remembrance of past offences, and fostering our anger against another. And this He reveals especially in this place, and also in the prayer in which He commands us to say: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them who trespass against us (Mt 6.12). Instructed therefore in all these things, and with this parable inscribed in our hearts, let us, when the thought comes of what our fellow servants have done to us, think also of what we have done against our Lord; and then through remembrance of our own sins, we shall be able at once to banish the anger we feel at others’ sins against us.

And if we must remember offences, let us remember only our own. And if we remember our own sins, we shall never store up the sins of others. And again, should we forget the sins of others, our thoughts will then readily turn to the remembrance of our own. For if this man had remembered the ten thousand talents, he would never have remembered the hundred pence. It was when he had forgotten his own great debt, that he throttled his fellow servant; and determined to get back a few pence, and failing, he brought back upon his own head the debt of the ten thousand talents.

Therefore, I shall make bold to say, that this sin is more grievous that any sin. And in truth it is not I who say this. It is Christ Who reveals it to us, in this very parable. For if it is not more grievous that the ten thousand talents, that is, that his own unspeakable sins, then it was not the reason why these very sins, which had just been forgiven, were again recalled against him. Let us therefore be zealous in nothing so much as in keeping ourselves free from anger, and from not seeking to be reconciled with those who are opposed to us; since we know that neither prayer nor alms nor fasting nor partaking of the sacraments nor any of these will profit us, if on that last day we are found remembering past offences. But should we triumph over this fault, though stained with a thousand other crimes, we shall be enabled to obtain forgiveness. And neither is this my word only, but the word of that God Who shall come to judge us. As He says at the end of this parable: So also shall my heavenly Father do to you, if you forgive not everyone from your hearts. And again in another place: If you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences (Mt 6.14).

Therefore, that here on earth we may lead a mild and gentle life, and there obtain pardon and remission for our sins, let us be eager, let us strive earnestly so that those who are enemies, may be reconciled to us: So that, even if we have sinned a thousand times, we may be reconciled to our Lord, and may come to the joys of heaven, of which may we all be found worthy, through the grace and loving kindness of Christ Jesus our Lord, to Whom be glory and honour throughout all ages and ages.


From The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers: A Manual of Preaching, Spiritual Reading and Meditation, translated and edited by M. F. Toal.

2 Replies to “On the Wicked Servant”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *