The Uniform Series text we’re studying for Sunday, July 1 is Matthew 18:21-35, the “parable of the unforgiving servant.” Here are some questions raised by the text that we might (or might not) find it useful to consider in class:
In v21, Peter asks Jesus how many times he needs to forgive “another member of the church” (NRSV) – as many as seven times? Why does he ask this, do we think? And why “seven,” do we think? Does “seven” seem like a lot? Do we have a guideline number of our own (e.g., “three strikes & you’re out,” “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”), and is it greater than or less than seven? Why?
Jesus’ story concerns debts, something that can be measured in units of money. How do we see “sins” or “offenses” as being similar to debts? [For instance, what has been borrowed, or how was the debt incurred? To whom is the debt owed? How does someone repay the kind of debt it is? Etc.] How do we see them as being different? Are some sins or offenses more like debts than others? Which ones? What difference might our answer make for how we understand this story?
What are our feelings about the different characters in the story? (e.g., do we feel compassion or “pity,” anger, fear, joy, …) Why? Which character do we feel closest or most similar to? Why? Which character do we feel most distant or different from? Why? How does this influence the way we understand the story?
Which of the characters in the story have more power? Which have less? How do we know this? Does the power the characters have make a difference in how they act? In how they are supposed to act? What difference does it make, do we think? Why? What difference does our answer make for what we think the story means?
What kinds of “sins” do we imagine Peter had in mind in v21? Were they the same as, or different from, the ones Jesus has in mind when he tells the story? What makes us think this? When we hear this story, what examples come to our minds? How do those specific examples affect the way we understand the story? If we had different examples in mind, how might our understanding change? Why?
(More personal) Have we ever been in the position of the “fellow slaves” in v31? What happened, and what did we do? What did we learn from that experience? How does that learning affect the way we understand what today’s text means?
Were the “fellow slaves” in v31 unforgiving, do we think? Why, or why not? Was slave #2 unforgiving, do we think? Why, or why not? Does this suggest anything to us about what the story means for us? What? Why?
Some possibly relevant links:
“South Africa’s Imperfect Progress: 20 Years After the Truth and Reconciliation Commission”
“Dealing with Hate: Can America’s truth and reconciliation commissions help?”
“Forgiveness: the Last Step” by Rev. Marie Fortune, FaithTrust Institute