I love to imagine how Bible stories played out. Often, my version is overly dramatic, putting a Hollywood spin on things. Jesus tells a parable about the Kingdom in Matthew 18 that I think is perfect for the big screen. This story features a king and a man who is down on his luck, begging for mercy before his royal highness—it seems to have the makings for an epic tale!
“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.” Matthew 18:23-17 (NIV)
Can you imagine owing someone ten thousand bags of gold? That is an outrageous sum that you would never be able to pay back in your lifetime. This man was desperate and at the end of his rope; he had no choice but to beg for mercy from the king. This ruler was well within his rights to make the man pay his debts, even as outrageous as they were. Yet this benevolent king was moved with compassion and showed him mercy, though the man didn’t deserve it.
What an incredible image of God! We are all that man with the impossible debt to be paid, we have all sinned and fallen short of his perfect standards. Yet, when we repent, God welcomes us into his arms. He forgives our debts and frees us. What an amazing God we serve!
The Lord has a knack for giving us opportunities to apply what we’ve learned about him. He provides us endless opportunities to steward our freedom and his forgiveness well. And we see this in Matthew 18.
As Jesus continues the parable, we follow the forgiven man from the palace to the streets where he finds someone who owes him money. If this were a Disney movie, the free man would share the love with this man, forgiving his debt. Sadly, the free man doesn’t follow in the footsteps of the king, but demands his money back. When the poor man is unable to pay a minor sum, he is thrown in jail. But in life, nothing stays hidden for long.
“When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.
“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” Matthew 18:31-33 (NIV)
Our God is just. He hates injustice and instructs us to care for the marginalized and oppressed. We have been called to such a high calling and have been set free so that we can set others free. This man had such an incredible opportunity to display mercy to those in his community, but sadly he chose the path of injustice.
The Correlation Between Justice and Mercy
For years, I had been confused by the phrasing in Micah 6:8 to do justice and love mercy. Those two felt contradictory to me, but this year I’ve been learning that the two actually work well together. We see these two characteristics of God played out in this one story: the king was merciful to the man, giving him an opportunity for restoration and wholeness, which is the whole point of true justice. When the man refused to use his freedom well, allowing pride and greed to overtake him, the king, sadly, had to punish the man, severing him from his family, his livelihood, and his community.
The Kingdom is imbued with justice and overflows with mercy. And God has called us to live the same way.
These are concepts that are easy to talk about but much more difficult to live out because true justice and mercy look different than we think of them. When I think of justice, I think of judges and jails; I think of punishment, not restoration. When I think of mercy, I think of weakness and letting people off the hook, not true freedom. I’m so grateful for the mercy God has displayed to me, but I often struggle to display that same mercy to others—I want to hold them to an unjust standard even though I have been forgiven. The truth is that I don’t always use my freedom well.
Yet, God still chooses me and loves me. He lovingly points out when I am incorrect or squandering the freedom he has so graciously provided to me. And the more I think on his goodness and the Kingdom, the more I am inclined to lift my eyes and do justice and love mercy as he instructs.
Do you see a connection between justice and mercy?
How can you steward your freedom well today?