“Shouldest Not Thou Also Have Had Compassion on Thy Fellowservant, Even as I Had Pity on Thee?”

Matthew 18:21–35

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said:

“A servant was in debt to his king for the amount of 10,000 talents. Hearing the servant’s plea for patience and mercy, ‘the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and . . . forgave . . . the debt.’ But then that same servant would not forgive a fellow servant who owed him 100 pence. On hearing this, the king lamented to the one he had forgiven, ‘Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?’ [see Matt. 18:24–33].

“There is some difference of opinion among scholars regarding the monetary values mentioned here—and forgive the U.S. monetary reference—but to make the math easy, if the smaller, unforgiven 100-pence debt were, say, $100 in current times, then the 10,000-talent debt so freely forgiven would have approached $1 billion—or more!

“As a personal debt, that is an astronomical number—totally beyond our comprehension. (Nobody can shop that much!) Well, for the purposes of this parable, it is supposed to be incomprehensible; it is supposed to be beyond our ability to grasp, to say nothing of beyond our ability to repay. That is because this isn’t a story about two servants arguing in the New Testament. It is a story about us, the fallen human family—mortal debtors, transgressors, and prisoners all. Every one of us is a debtor, and the verdict was imprisonment for every one of us. And there we would all have remained were it not for the grace of a King who sets us free because He loves us and is ‘moved with compassion toward us’ [D&C 121:4].

“Jesus uses an unfathomable measurement here because His Atonement is an unfathomable gift given at an incomprehensible cost. That, it seems to me, is at least part of the meaning behind Jesus’s charge to be perfect. We may not be able to demonstrate yet the 10,000-talent perfection the Father and the Son have achieved, but it is not too much for Them to ask us to be a little more godlike in little things, that we speak and act, love and forgive, repent and improve at least at the 100-pence level of perfection, which it is clearly within our ability to do.

“My brothers and sisters, except for Jesus, there have been no flawless performances on this earthly journey we are pursuing, so while in mortality let’s strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call ‘toxic perfectionism’ [see Joanna Benson and Lara Jackson, “Nobody’s Perfect: A Look at Toxic Perfectionism and Depression,” Millennial Star, Mar. 21, 2013, millennialstar.org.] We should avoid that latter excessive expectation of ourselves and of others and, I might add, of those who are called to serve in the Church—which for Latter-day Saints means everyone, for we are all called to serve somewhere. . . .

“Brothers and sisters, every one of us aspires to a more Christlike life than we often succeed in living. If we admit that honestly and are trying to improve, we are not hypocrites; we are human. May we refuse to let our own mortal follies, and the inevitable shortcomings of even the best men and women around us, make us cynical about the truths of the gospel, the truthfulness of the Church, our hope for our future, or the possibility of godliness. If we persevere, then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete—which is the New Testament meaning of perfection.” [For an enlightening examination of the meaning of the Greek word used in the New Testament for perfect (“teleios”), see President Russell M. Nelson’s October 1995 general conference address “Perfection Pending” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 86–87).]

(“Be Ye Therefore Perfect—Eventually,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2017, 41–42.)