What comes next in Matthew is rather suggestive that Ezra is in mind at this juncture, as Jesus offers up what has come to be known as the “Parable of the Unforgiving Slave.” This parable becomes a picture of both the type of treatment desired by Jesus and forgiveness in action. It does so along with a word of warning of the way that the Creator God will look upon those that do not abide by Jesus’ prescription. Here, it is appropriate to reflect on the statement offered up by Ezra, originally called to mind through and following his use of “seventy-seven,” reflecting the experience of the returnees from Babylon during the era of Persian occupation, while also serving to adequately describe the prevailing situation in Israel under the Romans, which was “Although we are slaves, our God has not abandoned us in our servitude” (9:9a). This lines up quite nicely with what will be found in the parable.
Together with that, in an era in which the cry of Rome, which it sought to put on the lips of all upon whom it foisted its dominion, was “No king but Caesar,” the respondent cry of an Israel that would not be assimilated and subdued was “No King but our God!” Owing to that, thoughts and hopes and dreams concerning the coming kingdom of their God were current; and of course, Matthew presents a Jesus that is primarily concerned with the advent of the kingdom of His God. It is in the mindset created by this set of ideas---ongoing slavery, claims concerning kingship, and concerns about a kingdom---with which one presses forward into the parable.
As an obvious adjunct to what Jesus has just said, with no separation, division, nor delay, the parable begins with “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves” (Matthew 18:23). The king, naturally, is the God of Israel. The slaves are the people of His covenant. “As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed ten thousand talents was brought to him” (18:24). This man is one of the already referenced slaves. He had an obligation to his king. However, “Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed” (18:25).
This demands a reach into the collective memory of the respective audiences, with a recollection of Israel’s obligation under its covenant to be a light to the people of the surrounding nations and to bearing the image of their God in representing His covenant to the world. Israel had failed to fulfill their end of that covenant, and their ongoing subjection by Rome confirmed that their failure was ongoing. They did not meet their obligation, so it was understood to be the case that their God had “sold” them into both Assyrian and Babylonian exile, with Rome now playing the role of those two empires.
Proceeding, Jesus says “Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’” (18:26) This, because of the mindset and self-identifying history in which the hearers are steeped, is reminiscent of the prayers of repentance and restoration from exile that are to be found in the second book of the Kings, the second book of the Chronicles, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
These prayers are best summed up with “if My people, who belong to Me, humble themselves, pray, seek to please Me, and repudiate their sinful practices, then I will respond from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). The audience goes on to learn that “The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt” (18:27). Indeed, in spite of their covenant failures, and because of His faithfulness to His plan of redemption for His people and the world through them, because of their response to this demand, the Lord allowed His people to return to the land, to reconstruct the Temple, and to rebuild Jerusalem.