READING: Matthew 18:21-35
SERMON: "The Unforgiving Servant"
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
From time to time I write a narrative sermon that is a
retelling of a biblical story. This is one of them.
For others - and for my views about my humble endeavours
in this area of sermon writing, see my page called (no
surprise here), Narrative Sermons.
I can tell you some more of the details
I can tell you the real reason Randy went to jail,
the reason that never appeared in the newspapers,
but you have to promise not to tell everyone.
You understand - even after all these years, it would
be unfair to some people if it became common knowledge.
Let me start by saying Randy and I worked for a good man.
Not only was John good, but he was incredibly wealthy,
his corporation was one of the biggest in the world.
John lived like a king, he had a huge mansion from which he
ran all his enterprises. and in it was every modern convenience.
It seemed to me that the whole world was John's beck and call,
he could make and break nations through his deals.
Presidents and Princes virtually knelt at his feet.
But for all his power and wealth John had a personal touch,
he never forgot what it was to be a human being.
He believed in giving people a break -
"just like I got a break", he used to say.
John often lent members of his personal staff large amounts of
money when they came to him with an idea that they thought
they could make work.
He would set them up in their own businesses and give them
advice when they asked for it. That is how I got my start all
those years ago and I am doing very well as you know.
The newspapers got John all wrong when they wrote about him.
John was a very generous man -
and his generosity paid off for him time and time again,
We would do anything for him because we knew that he would
do anything for us.
Anyway, I am telling you the story of the real reason Randy
went to jail.
Randy joined us on John's personal staff in '55
He was a real go getter and he did a fine job when he worked
with us. He more than pulled his weight,
As they say - he was an asset to the corporation.
I guess Randy hadn't been with us for more than five years when
he got a great idea for a business venture, and he went to John
and convinced John to lend him ten million dollars to set it up.
Now John had been good to us all,
but ten million dollars worth of help was far more help than
we had ever seen before. It was a tremendous amount of money
in those days.
Most of those who worked for John and then decided to strike
out on our own, had only ever borrowed a 100 or 200,000
dollars at the most. So we were surprised by what happened
but we figured that John and Randy knew what they were doing,
and we wished Randy all the best in his venture.
Randy kept in touch with us after he left to set up his business:
he'd come by and he'd chat,
he'd tell us how well things were going,
and then he'd rush off to some business meeting or other.
It was nice seeing him - I liked Randy - he was a personable sort
of guy, a bit like John in some ways.
He would remember us at Christmas,
and he would come to our homes when we had birthdays
and he would always bring a little something for us to enjoy.
One time, about a year before everything happened,
Randy gave a hand to one of our secretaries
- he had gotten to know her while he working with us -
he lent her $10,000 so that she and her husband could get into
a new home they wanted.
We figured that things were going pretty well for Randy,
so we were surprised one day when he came to us with
tears in his eyes and told us that his business had collapsed
and that he was bankrupt.
Randy, as you can imagine, was a wreck.
He was trembling and shaking,
and he kept asking us what did we think John would do to get
his money back.
We didn't know what to tell him.
We had seen John destroy entire companies that had tried
to cut into his business, and we all knew of executives in
his factories that had lost their jobs, their homes, and all
chance of working again because they had done things
John did not like.
John was kind to his people as I have said, he was a good man,
but John was not a man who took kindly to people who cheated
him or who defaulted on their obligations in any way.
We tried to tell Randy that everything would be OK
but we didn't really believe it ourselves, and neither did
All Randy knew, and all we knew for that matter, was that the
next day was month end and, as on every month end, John
would be expecting his payment.
Goodness knows what Randy felt like that night,
it must of been a taste of hell for him,
but to his credit, he showed up at eight the next morning,
and accompanied by Harry, John's accountant,
a couple of the other executive staff, and myself,
he went into John's office to deal with the matter.
When Harry told John that Randy was bankrupt and could not
pay what he owed, John was furious.
His eyes bulged and he roared at Randy -
Ten million dollars! You lost a ten million dollars of mine!
I trusted you and you cannot pay me back.?
You are going to wish you never existed after I get
through with you.
I am going to have you charged with fraud, criminal neglect,
and every other thing I can think of.
You are going to spend more time in prison than calendars
And then John turned to us and said - "See to it! And get
every penny out of his hide that you can find."
At this point poor Randy just fell apart. He began to cry,
and then he collapsed onto his knees and pleaded with John
Please, John, please, give me some time. I did so well for
a while. I can do it again. Just give me two or three years
and I will pay you back everything.
We stood watching - and we felt really badly for Randy,
we knew that it was impossible for him to pay John back,
no one could ever raise that kind of money
especially when they had already proven that they could
not handle it.
John sat there in his chair, and like us, he looked at this shell
of a man crying and weeping on his floor,
finally he shook his head and got up and he went to over to
Randy, and put his hand under his chin and lifted it so that
Randy was looking into his eyes, and then John shook his
head again and said something that floored us.
He said - Randy - I will not do it to you
- everyone makes mistakes,
- Forget it - forget your debt,
- I forgive it. Go home and get your life together.
I am not lying to you.
It was ten million dollars - and John just dismissed it.
I mean even John, as rich as he was , would notice that much
But he cancelled the debt right then and there.
It was a stunning display of all the attributes that made us love
John even more than we feared him.
Harry and I and the other two got Randy to his feet, helped him
pull himself together and then sent him home.
We were still talking among ourselves about how John had
treated Randy a couple of weeks later. It was such an
incredible act of generosity.
If the truth be known, Harry, the accountant, did not think a
whole lot of the deal,
he figured that all men ought to pay their debts,
but we told him that it was not always possible and that
John, even though he had lost ten million, obviously felt
that he had done the right thing.
That is why Harry was so angry a month later when his secretary
came to him in tears. It was the same secretary that Randy had
lent the $10,000 and she had quite the story to tell him.
It seemed that her husband had lost his job and that they had
fallen behind in their payments to Randy. Randy, she said, had
started foreclosing procedures on them and they were going to
lose their home - and perhaps their car and
everything else they owned.
We were stunned at Harry's news and asked him to bring Janice
in to see us. She told us the same story - that her husband was
between jobs and that they had fallen behind in their payments
Randy had sent them a notice requesting his payment and she
had gone to him to ask him to wait for a while.
but Randy, she said, insisted on payment or he would foreclose.
Janice told us that she had fallen apart and began to cry
and that she had begged Randy to please wait just a little
while longer - that she had promised to pay him as soon as her
husband got another job, but that Randy refused to listen to her
and that very morning the sheriff had come with an eviction
Well, like Harry, we got very angry,
and right away we went to John and told him the story.
John immediately sent a car to pick up Randy
and Randy came in about an hour later with this big smile on
his face - as if nothing was wrong - and I guess he thought
nothing was - after all John had treated him so very well.
Well what happened to Randy after that day is public history.
The trial made all the papers,
and the sentence passed on Randy was so severe that some
people called it a miscarriage of justice.
They claimed that Randy's creditors were ruthless, John most
of all, but we knew the truth. We knew what had happened
before, and we knew what had happened in John's office the day
we heard Janice's story.
What happened was simple and it was just.
John called Randy and the rest of us in to his office,
and he stared at Randy, and you could see him seething,
finally he broke the silence and said to Randy - I
remember every word as
clearly as if had just happened; he said
Randy, I forgave you everything you owed me when you
asked, ten million dollars... and you - you could not even
forgive your friend,
someone who worked here with you for five years,
10,000 measly dollars .
I am deeply disappointed - and because of what you have
done you are going to have to pay, and you will pay hard!
and you will pay dear! until everything you owe me is paid
Then John turned to us and he said:
Ny friends, my old Jewish grandmother used to take me on
her lap and read to me from the holy Talmud - these words:
If you have done your fellow a little wrong,
let it be in your eyes great.
If you have done him much good,
let it be in your eyes little.
If he has done you a little good,
let it be in your eyes great,
And if he has done you a great wrong,
let it be in your eyes little.
Then she would say to me: These are good words to live by.
If you live by them the Lord God will not be angry with you
when you go to be judged by him.
Then John told us to go and call the lawyers and bring charges
Let me tell you - It was not the money Randy owed to John
that did him in as the papers said,
no - it was the money that Randy was owed by Janice that
destroyed him, that little bit that he could not forgive
-- even though John had forgiven him so much.
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 1996 - 2005
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.