Debtor's Prison


Throughout history, in many different cultures, people who could not pay their creditors were thrown into debtor’s prison. In biblical times, such systems existed. Jesus referred to debtor’s prison twice when He gave us the parable of the unforgiving slave:

“…the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents [i.e., millions of dollars] was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii , [less than a hundred dollars]; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” Matthew 18:23-35

This parable has a number of ironies here. The first irony is that the slave who was forgiven an astronomical debt of millions of dollars refused to in turn forgive a debt of perhaps fifty bucks. There is another irony here, that isn’t discussed as often. Notice that the slave threw his debtor into prison when he couldn’t repay. Now, what happened to the slave when the king found out? The king threw the slave into prison! What does that mean to you and I? When someone sins against us, if we don’t forgive, we essentially put the offender into “debtor’s prison.” That is, when we don’t forgive someone, we treat them as if they owe us something. But the truth is, when we don’t forgive, we’re the one who gets tortured! On the other hand, when we forgive the debts of others, we’re actually the ones who are being set free! Rather than holding onto grudges, and putting our debtors into prison, why not show forgiveness? Remember, forgiveness is the key to our freedom!

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