In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus shares the parable of a servant who owed to his master a great debt valued at 10 000 talents. As the master was about to settle the accounts in a violent way, the servant pleaded for mercy and consequently the master forgave the debt. But in a cynical twist of turn, the forgiven servant met another fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii and he (the forgiven servant) violently demanded his money by refusing any plea or negotiations and by throwing the fellow servant in jail. When the master heard about the unfortunate incident, he summoned the forgiven servant and reversed his forgiveness by throwing him to jail.

This parable contains various facets of richness concerning forgiveness and generosity. When we receive generosity from God and others, not only should we consume the gifts received but we ought as well to adopt that character of generosity. So in the process of benefiting from generosity, three things should occur in the life of the recipient: ‘ gratefulness, the consumption of the gift, the adoption of a generous character’. When we benefit from generosity, it is imperative that we move beyond consumption to a change of character by becoming more generous.
In the parable of the unforgiving servant, if you read the story at the beginning, you might be tempted to think that the unforgiving servant will pay forward the generosity and mercy he received from his master. But in a surprising twist, this is what happened:

1. The servant owed the master 10 000 talents. A talent was worth 20 years of wages and therefore the debt was mathematically impossible to repay. This teaches us that the generosity of God towards us is mathematically impossible to repay. And we all have benefited of the generosity from God in one form or another.

2. The unforgiving servant met another person who owed him 100 denarii. A denarius was a day’s wage and the debt, as reported by Jesus, proves that the generosity we receive from God will always surpass the generosity we will pay forward to another human.

3. At the moment the unforgiving servant met his fellow, he was supposed to adopt the character of his master. So the whole story was not just about consuming the 10 000 debt forgiveness, but also about adopting the character of his master. All too often, many people only limit themselves at the consumerist stage where the whole focus is on consuming the gifts received through generosity from God and humans. But there is a higher stage that I call ‘ character adoption’ where the beneficiary adopts the character of the benefactor. And this is the stage where Jesus calls all of us: ‘ to become benefactor, like God, by paying generosity forward’.

Isn’t it amazing how, after receiving and benefiting from tremendous generosity of God and humans, certain people are still in consumerist mode when it is time for them to pay generosity forward? They have fully received generosity but their character has not changed…

4. Notice as well that the unforgiving servant meets a fellow servant who is at the same level as his and who has done no favor to him. The encounter pretty much symbolizes what I call ‘linear generosity’. In many cases, our human nature finds it easy to show generosity to those who have benefited to us, and this is what I call:’ circular generosity’ .But in many cases, life will present to us occasions where we will have to show generosity to a person who has never done anything in our favor.

5. And this is the cherry on top of the story:’ the unforgiving servant forgot the amount he was forgiven by his master. Too often, selfish people fail to show linear generosity because they forgot how much they have received from God and from certain humans in terms of gifts and forgiveness. The way Jesus treated us should be the same way we have to treat others.

And the generosity we have received from humans (known ones or unknown strangers) should be a seed to transform us into generous people and not just consumers.

During these times where the world is affected by a terrible pandemic, we will very likely face people in need. And the temptation will be to think: ‘ well, they have never done anything for me…so I won’t bother to help…’
Don’t fall for that thought.
Think of this for a moment:’ in your whole life, there might have been some bad experiences…but there were also positive experiences from people who showed generosity towards you. What if they all decided to withhold their forgiveness and generosity towards you…where will you be?

The generosity we benefit is not only about consuming a gift, but it is also about transforming our character into a generous one. And then we have to pass the baton by paying generosity forward to others. The buck of generosity must NOT stop with you through plain consumption.

Pay it forward.