The Parables of Matthew and Forgiveness

This post is part of an ongoing series on Forgiveness in the Gospel of Matthew.

These general literary-theological insights concerning Matthew’s theology of forgiveness find additional explication in two additional parables of Jesus: the Parable of the Lost Sheep (18:10-14) and Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32).

In the Parable of the Lost Sheep—which occurs only a few verses before the Parable of Unmerciful Servant and in the context of discussions about the nature of the community—a distinction is drawn between those who have gone astray (τὸ πλανώμενον) and those who are not lost. Verse 14 serves as the connection of this parable to its context, namely, that the Father desires that not one of His sheep, those who belong to him (τῶν μικρῶν τούτων), be lost.[1] In the context of the Jesus-community, this suggests that God desires none of His people ever be lost, and that if they do wander away for a time, He wants them back. This is the type of inclusion and forgiveness that the People of God are taught to show one another.

Like the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, the Parable of the Two Sons occurs only in Matthew’s Gospel. Placed within the context of Holy Week, the vineyard (ἀμπελών) of this parable and the immediately following Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-44) should be understood as references to the same thing: the land, specifically the places where father of vv. 28-31 and landowner of vv. 33-40 operates.[2] The basic message of this parable is that those who do the will of the Father—even after initially rejecting his commands—are closer to the way of righteousness than those who disobey after saying they will obey. Action trumps speech and constitutes true obedience. For Matthew’s theology of forgiveness, these parables reveal that God wishes none from the community be lost and that obedient action rather than lip service constitutes true righteousness. These parables and their teachings prove paradigmatic for properly understanding Matthew’s narrative of the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus.

[1] On the motif of the People of God represented as sheep (πρόβατα), see Ez. 34.1-31, Ps. 23, and 1 Enoch 85-90.

[2] Harrington, 299.


Published by Jacob J. Prahlow

Husband of Hayley. Dad of Bree and Judah. Lead pastor at Arise Church. MATS from Saint Louis University, MA from Wake Forest University, BA from Valparaiso University. Theologian and writer here and at Conciliar Post. Find me on social at @pastorjakestl

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