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Lessons, Ideas, Activities, and Resources for the Parable of Unforgiving Servant

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Including: Unforgiving Servant, Debtor, Matthew 18:21-35, Kingdom of God, Parable, 7 x 70, forgiveness, etc.

Last edited by Luanne Payne
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The following lesson ideas were originally published in our email newsletter as a Continuing Education Article by writers Phyllis Wezeman and Anna Liechty.


Our email newsletter contains many such resources and links to new resources at our site. Visit here to find out how to subscribe.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant 
© 2009 Phyllis Vos Wezeman & Anna L. Liechty

As we continue a series on the Parables, let’s look at the familiar story of "The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant." To use this information as the basis of a Rotation Set, read the Scripture passages; then use the Springboard Suggestions as a starting point for developing lessons for workshop lesson plans.

Scripture Reference:
Matthew 18:23-35

Springboard Suggestions:

Discuss the importance of relief sculpture in architectural design. Use books with architectural photography to show how the detail adds to the appearance of a building’s columns or at the capital. Explain that often the images for reliefs were taken from famous stories, including Biblical literature such as the parables. Ask the students to imagine what scene from the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant could be done as a relief to remind the viewer of the story’s message. Ask them, also, to consider what kind of buildings might have been decorated with a relief about forgiveness.

Introduce the importance of scale in architectural design in order to create a sense of grandeur. If possible, visit the largest available public building such as a courthouse in order to experience looking up into a dome or high ceiling. Explain that such extended space impresses those who enter with their own smallness in comparison. Relate such architectural concerns to the story of the Unforgiving Servant. Discuss how the first servant might have felt in the King’s throne room where he was called to account for his debt. Ask the students to consider how the scale of the room might have impacted the servant’s humility. Connect these attitudes to the way we should feel when we enter God’s presence. Discuss what we can do to remind ourselves of God’s grandeur.

Have the class make an enlargement of something simple such as a candy wrapper. Divide the candy wrapper into 1/4" grids and then divide a large piece of white art paper into 3/4" or 1" grids. Have the children fill in one grid at a time using colored markers the same way it is done on the wrapper. Do the details first then the larger areas that might be all the same color. An M & M™ box is a good example of an easy object to enlarge. Point out that by following the pattern but increasing the size of the grids they could easily increase and recreate the image. Compare this understanding of scale to the difference between the amount to be forgiven each of the characters in the parable. Explain that while the students increased their image three or four times, the difference in scale between the two debts would be many thousand times larger. Discuss the obvious point Jesus was making about the debt we owe to our King versus the debts others owe us.

Introduce the idea of perspective by inviting the students to draw pictures that zoom out. Have them draw any scene they wish, or suggest that they draw pictures of their families. Next, challenge them to zoom out to the next level. For example, if they first drew a picture of their parents and siblings, they might zoom out to show their families standing behind the windows of their houses with details of their yards included. The next "zoom" might be to show the house from above as it sits among the city neighborhood, then the city as a part of the map of the state, then the nation, and ultimately the earth or beyond. Explain that playing "zoom" will ultimately take us to a perspective within God’s universe. Point out the importance in the parable of seeing things from another’s point of view, not just selfishly acting from our own small concerns. Use the picture book Zoom by Istvan Banyai (Puffin Paperback, 1998) as inspiration for this activity.

Create a "feelings" book about forgiveness using a variety of fabrics and textures. Have the students brainstorm the words they would use to describe the feelings of the two servants in the story. Ask them to consider how the first servant felt when the king forgave him that huge debt, then how the other servant felt when he was denied forgiveness. Explain that sometimes we can better remember ideas like forgiveness and unforgiveness when we associate them with something we can touch or feel. Have individuals or groups make a page for a book that says "Unforgiveness feels like …" Then have them cut and paste squares of cloth, sandpaper, or other textures that represent the negative feelings that they listed. Next, make a second page that contrasts with the first, "Forgiveness feels like …" using the textures that they would associate with the positive feelings listed. Tie or fasten the two pages together as a literal book of "feelings" about forgiveness.

Make a wall hanging from burlap, muslin, and charcoal to represent our need for repentance and forgiveness. Discuss the message of the parable, that we owe a debt to God we can never repay. Allow the children to touch the burlap, and explain that sometimes in the past people used to wear scratchy cloth like burlap as a reminder to be humble before God. Also demonstrate writing on the muslin with the charcoal. Share that charcoal is made from burned wood and represents ashes that are often used to symbolize the sin in our lives that only God can forgive. Instruct the participants that they are going to create a wall hanging out of these materials as a reminder of our need for God’s mercy and Jesus’ message to forgive one another. Have the children select a verse from the parable such as "forgive your brother or sister from your heart" to write with the charcoal on the muslin. Then attach the muslin with fabric glue to the burlap banner. Create a pocket at the top of the banner for a dowel rod. Display the banner in a classroom or hallway.

Creative Writing:
Challenge writers to create a story in response to the parable in which characters pass on the misery or the good deed that was done to them. Encourage them to write about what they know; for example, what happens in the classroom after someone has pushed another student down on the playground? Let the students write collaboratively or alone, but encourage them to write a story or draw a cartoon series that shows several negative actions turned around by someone who refuses to "pass on" the angry, unforgiving attitude. Have the individuals or groups share their stories.

Introduce the poetry form known as the Cento – a poem made of up to 100 "borrowed lines" from other sources that are acknowledged or documented. Provide poems about forgiveness, as well as songs or hymn texts that focus on forgiveness. Explain that the goal is to weave the lines or ideas taken from sources into a new poem. After a time to read, copy lines, and rework the ideas into a Cento, invite the group to share their creations, explaining where they located the lines they used. Close by explaining that our lives are like Centos – God is the source of everything we are and have. Like the parable explains, we owe God more than we could ever repay. And, like the Cento, our goal is to create something beautiful with our lives to share with others.

Decorate a plate or a platter with non-toxic permanent paint to create a gift to pass on to another. Fill the plate with goodies such as cookies, dipped pretzels, or fruit and present the taste treats as a gift, requiring only that the recipient passes on the plate filled with other goodies as an offer of friendship and the challenge to keep the gift going. Explain the connection of "passing along the gift" to the parable’s message of offering freely to others what we have so freely been given by God.

Prepare a chocolate fountain and assorted fruits, angel food cake, or pretzels as the tidbits to dip in the chocolate. Enjoy the free flowing fountain and goodies, then relate the fountain to God’s overflowing forgiveness that is ours to enjoy. 

Dance Gesture Movement:

Ask the group to participate in a ritual of "passing the peace." Gather the participants in a circle and explain that they are physically going to offer a gesture or touch to the person on their left, passing the peace clockwise around the circle. Instruct them that the only rule in their communication with one another is that they must not speak, but physically communicate with the next person in a gentle and caring way that represents the commandment Jesus gives that we forgive and care for each other. 

Use body shapes and gestures to contrast the different postures of forgiveness and unforgiveness. Divide the class into two groups. Assign one individual in each group to be the "sculptor." Explain that the others are to be the sculpture and must assume the positions into which the sculptor moves them. Give one sculptor the task of designing non-verbal gestures and postures that suggest an unforgiving attitude; conversely, ask the other to "shape" the physical poses of group mates into open and forgiving gestures. Take turns viewing the "sculptures" designed and discuss how we communicate our attitudes through our physical appearance. Ask which postures reflect the challenge that Jesus gives us in the parable.

Recreate the scene of Peter’s question of Jesus about how many times we must forgive. Challenge the actors to suggest Peter’s smugness at thinking himself generous to forgive even more than the rabbis of the era required. Encourage the character of Jesus to communicate the enormity of the number of times he suggests that people must forgive each other. Debrief the scene with a discussion of the message of the parable that we owe God more than we can ever repay, so how can we deny others the forgiveness God infinitely provides.

Use improvisation and "freeze frame" performance to engage the group in discussing contemporary situations requiring forgiveness. Assign or let the groups come up with their own scenarios that represent daily life opportunities to forgive others from our hearts. For example: someone who steals a video game from a locker, someone who passes along a piece of gossip that is untrue, or a family member who breaks another family member’s cell phone. Just as the guilty party is confronted, call "freeze" and the actors must hold positions and remain silent while the group suggests possible ways to offer forgiveness and resolve the conflict. 

Play a relay game with the object of filling trash baskets faster than the other team(s). Provide or gather a mound of cast off clothing, wadded up paper, empty boxes, and/or miscellaneous unbreakable debris. Instruct the teams that the object is to fill up their trash receptacle before the other teams. One at a time team members race to the pile of "stuff" and select one item to place in the bin identified for their teams, before returning to send the next person in the relay to do the same. Explain that they must hurry, but also that they may stomp or push down the discarded items in the other teams’ baskets, remembering the object is to fill theirs to the top first. After a few lively rounds of "stuff the trash baskets" connect the race to the parable’s message. Ask how anyone can be a "winner" in a race to fill up the garbage. Explain that humans seem to be better at trashing their lives than receiving and giving forgiveness, but that God specializes in "taking out the trash." 

Try a competitive game of balloon smash, then counter it with a cooperative game of balloon lift. For balloon smash, tie a balloon to each person’s ankle with enough string so that the balloon trails on the floor. Instruct the participants to step on other people’s balloons while trying to protect their own. The last one with an intact balloon is the "winner." Then change the game so that the goal is for the group to keep one balloon aloft with taps of their hands for as long as possible. Encourage them to keep beating their best time without letting the balloon touch the ground. Be sure to express forgiveness toward the person who lets the balloon fall. Point out the differences between the two games. Tie the message of the parable to the games’ contrast of being out for oneself versus working together and understanding that any of us is capable of dropping the balloon. 

Involve the participants in a search for hymns about forgiveness. Look in the topical and Scriptural index to identify songs on the theme found in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. Choose one or more to sing and discuss the message of the hymn text in relation to Jesus’ words.

Obtain the song, "Forgive Our Sins As We Forgive" (Composer, David Ashley; Text, Rosamond E. Herklots). Practice and present the music as a culmination of the study of the parable.

Use visual images to represent the theme of "new beginnings." Provide pictures from calendars or use art photography that symbolizes forgiveness and an opportunity to begin anew. Consider images such as a sunrise, a gentle rain, or a budding rose. Gather the pictures for a display on a bulletin board or wall titled "Forgiveness Reigns."

View the film Finding Neverland (Director Marc Forster. Performers Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. Miramax, 2004). Discuss the loss that comes from unforgiveness and the importance of love in helping God change the world.

Create puppets from recycled materials such as bottles, paper tubes, cans, or broken objects. Make puppets for each of the characters in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant and use them to re-tell the story.

Have the group search for other Biblical stories about the importance of forgiveness and create puppet presentations to tell those stories. Consider texts such as Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 45:4-15) or Jesus and the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43). 

Research and retell the story of the Japanese families and friends of Fuji Bank employees who folded 10,000 paper cranes to hang in the 9/11 Visitor Center in April 2007, to commemorate the loss of life during the World Trade Center disaster. Explain that each of the origami birds that represent peace in the Japanese culture had been folded by hand. These cranes were the first exhibit at the Visitor Center contributed by a group outside the United States. Discuss Jesus’ message of the role that forgiveness plays in creating peace, and relate the forgiveness necessary on both sides for the United States and Japan to be allies today.

Tell a story from the desert nomads about the importance of forgiveness. Explain that in the harsh climate of the dessert, the rule is that one offers shelter from the sun and something to drink even to one’s enemy. Dramatize the story of someone lost amid burning sand and the scorching heat, only to stumble into the clutches of his or her worst enemy. Yet, amazingly, the rule of the dessert prohibits the enemy from taking advantage; instead the lost wanderer is given a cool sip of water and is offered a shady spot to rest and be restored. Conclude with the moral that life is a struggle no matter where we live. We should all live by the rule of the desert and remember to be forgiving of one another just as the parable teaches.

Last edited by Lesson Forma-teer

Video Ideas

  • "Godspell", This parable (Unmerciful Servant) is acted out in the movie where Jesus is teaching the disciples.  
  • DVD Chapters are links to songs (times approximate), excerpt below.

[0 min] Prologue - (Gen 1)
[1 min] John the Baptist - (Matt 3:1-12)

Prepare ye the way of the Lord

[9 min] Baptism of Jesus - (Matt 3:13-17)

Save the people

[14 min] Fulfil the Law - (Matt 5:17-20)
[17 min] Pharisee & Publican - (Luke 18:10-14)
[18 min] Settling Disputes - (Matt 5:23-26)
[19 min] Unmerciful Servant - (Matt 18:23-35)

Day by day (lyrics)

  • VeggieTales "God Wants Me to Forgive Them?!"

God Wants Me to Forgive Them!?! contains two approx 15 min. stories that teach children a Biblical perspective on forgiveness.

The Grapes of Wrath What do you get when a bunch of very cranky grapes make fun of five-year old Junior Asparagus? One sad asparagus, and one big problem! Can Junior's dad show the grapes the error of their ways? Will Junior ever be able to forgive them?

The Forgive-O-Matic, instead of a silly song, a commercial about a machine that forgives sins from a company called Wrongco. Junior tells Scallion #1 that he knows lots of people who have been forgiven without the scallion's product. He says that if we ask God for forgiveness, then he will forgive us.

Larry's Lagoon A three hour boat tour takes a turn for the worse when first mate Larry absentmindedly crashes into an uncharted tropical island! Can Skipper Bob and the passengers possibly forgive Larry for making such a huge blunder? While the professor discovers how many contraptions can be built out of bamboo and coconuts, the others discover the real reasons God wants us to forgive!

"After Peter clashes with a tax collector, Jesus speaks to him about forgiveness. Parable of the Unmerciful Servant (also known as the Parable of the Unforgiving Official) with the teachings of Jesus to His disciples.

Jesus teaches Peter about the power to forgive and how to control his anger at those who do him wrong. Christ tells the story about a man who owes his King ten thousand talents to demonstrate that the ability to forgive comes from our Heavenly Father. In the end, the King takes pity and forgives the man of the debt. Ironically, however, the pardoned man leaves the King’s presence and immediately casts one of his own debtors into prison."

The Unforgiving Servant

Video Viewpoint – Video Workshop

Summary of Lesson Activities:

Nest Animated Stories: Forgive Us Our Debts by Nest Entertainment.
Afterward, show
The Proud Tree by Ligouri Publications (1992).

Scripture Reference: Matthew 18:21-35

Leader Preparation:

  • Read the scripture ahead of time.
  • Gather the materials.
  • Preview the videos.

Supplies List:

  • Nest Animated Stories: Forgive Us Our Debts by Nest Entertainment.
  • The Proud Tree by Ligouri Publications (1992).

Opening - Welcome and Lesson Introduction:

Greet the children and introduce yourself.

Open with a prayer,

Review again the memory verse and the bonus verse, and ask children to share some things they’ve learned about these verses over the previous three weeks of rotation. Then ask about the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.

Dig - Main Content and Reflection:

  1. First, ask where in the Bible it is found and who told it.(ANS: In Matthew 18:21-35; Jesus told it.)
  2. Why was it told? (ANS: Because Peter asked how many times he had to forgive someone who wronged him.)
  3. What was the story in the Parable about? (ANS: It was about a king who forgave a man who owed him over a million dollars, and about how the man then demanded payment of a small debt owed to him by another man. Then the king had the first man put in prison for the rest of his life.)
  4. How can “not forgiving another person” become a kind of prison for you? (Let students ponder this question, and return to it after the videos.)
  5. What happened to Peter on the night before Jesus was put on the cross? (ANS: He denied that he was one of Jesus’ followers; he made Jesus very sad.)
  6. Did Jesus ever forgive Peter for this? How do we know? (ANS: Yes; we know because after Jesus was alive again, he asked Peter three times, “Do you love me?” and Peter said, “yes”, and Jesus said to “feed his sheep”. He didn’t mean little, furry sheep, but He wanted Peter to care for and lead the other followers of Jesus.)

You should have previewed the videos, and so have each one cued to an appropriate starting point and have plans for when to pause the videos and ask any more questions. Pass out the popcorn and start the video,Animated Stories: Forgive Us Our Debts by Nest Entertainment. Afterward, show The Proud Tree by Ligouri Publications (1992).

Moderator notes: The Proud Tree DVD (25 mins) is available through Liguori Publications.

Story outline: The proud tree was named Rex (King) because he acted like he was the king tree of the forest. This video tells the story of the crucifixion from the viewpoint of Rex, the tree that became the cross Jesus carried to Calvary. Proud and ungrateful at first, Rex learns a lesson in love from the humble and gentle Jesus. Children will come to understand the importance of Jesus' sacrifice and the power of his love.

After the videos, go back to the unanswered question, “How can NOT forgiving another person become a kind of prison for you?” (ANS: Jesus said we must forgive others before we can fully know God’s forgiveness. The Great Commandment, Matthew 22:37-40, is “…Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and…Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you do not forgive another person, you are not loving that person as God commanded, and your love for God is also imperfect.)

Close with a circle of prayer, and invite everyone to return next week with their Bible and a friend for a new rotation.

The Unforgiving Servant

Drama Workshop

JOHN:  (Editor's Note: this next dialog is a bit long, and could be broken up by having a group of students "improv" each of the following sections as the narrator reads and pauses.)

“This is how Jesus taught us that God the Father wants us always to forgive one another. Here is another story; it’s a true story about Peter. When Jesus was on trial, the night before He was put on the cross, Peter and I were watching and waiting in the shadows in the courtyard outside the high priest’s house. We were afraid we would also be put on trial and killed for being followers of Jesus. There were guards with swords and spears standing nearby, and several servant girls too. We could hear the judgment condemning Jesus to death as He stood before the high priest.

As we were standing in the crowd trying to keep warm, someone else spoke out concerning Peter, ‘You talk like one of those Galileans; you must be one of them!’ Peter shouted, ‘I tell you, I don’t know the man!’

And then the rooster crowed. Peter and I remembered that Jesus had told Peter that he would deny Him three times tonight before the rooster crowed. Peter left; he was crying bitterly.

After Jesus was crucified on the cross and was in the tomb, we thought all was finished. What could we do? But then, on the third day after the crucifixion, early in the morning, as we huddled together in an upper room, one of the women came running and pounded on the door. She was shouting, ‘They’ve taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him!’ Peter and I ran to the tomb. The heavy stone had been rolled away from the entrance; we thought someone had come at night and had taken Jesus’ body away. But no, I looked and I saw the grave clothes lying as if His body had just gone right through them! Later, we met Jesus! He was alive! He came and went from us at times when we never heard or saw Him coming.

Finally, one day, Peter said, ‘Let’s go fishing.’ We did, Peter and I and James, Thomas, Nathanael and two others. We fished all night in our favorite fishing spot on Lake Galilee, but we caught nothing. Finally, just as the sun began to rise, we saw a man on shore. He called out to us, ‘Have you caught any fish yet?’ We called back, ‘No!’ He called, ‘Cast the net on the other side of the boat!’ We did, and whoa! What a catch! Before we could haul it in, I knew it was Jesus on the shore. I yelled, ‘It is the Lord!’ Peter jumped into the water and swam for shore.

Jesus met us as we pulled in the gigantic catch of fish; 153 fish in all! And Jesus had made breakfast. After breakfast, Jesus had a special talk with Peter, except that He called him by the name he had before he followed Jesus. He called him ‘Simon’:”

(Scene near the fire on the beach, both men seated near each other, looking at each other)

JESUS: “Simon, …do you love me more than these?”

PETER: “Yes, Lord. You know I love you.”

JESUS: “Feed my lambs.”

JESUS: “Simon…do you truly love me?”

PETER: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!”

JESUS: “Take care of my sheep.”

JESUS: “Simon…do you love me?”

PETER: “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”

JESUS: “Feed my sheep.” “Follow me!”

JOHN: “Peter did follow Jesus. After Jesus went back to heaven, Peter was a bold leader in the church. He was filled with the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and he preached to thousands of people on the day of Pentecost. He preached that people must repent of their sins and believe on Jesus, the Son of God, and be forgiven. Peter remembered how Jesus had forgiven him for denying Him three times. Peter wasn’t perfect, but he remembered to forgive those who wronged him. He was faithful to Jesus to the end of his life.” [Teacher, explain that by “sheep” or “lambs” Jesus meant people, not furry animals.]

Discussion questions:

  1. Peter denied Jesus three times; he said he “never knew Him”. What does it mean to deny Jesus? Have you ever done that? (ANS: Denying Jesus is like what Peter said, saying something that means that you don’t really care about Jesus.)
  2. If you have denied Jesus, you can ask Jesus to forgive you, and you can decide to follow Jesus just as Peter did. When Peter was filled with the Spirit of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost, he was not afraid to talk to anybody about Jesus. What is one way you can speak about Jesus to other people? (ANS: If you’re in a group that is talking about Jesus, do not join in with saying things against Jesus. If someone wants to know, you can say you believe that Jesus really is the Son of God. You can always pray and ask God to help you know what to say. Sometimes, just offering to pray for someone who is in need is a way of saying that you love Jesus.)
  3. Is there anything wrong with “getting even” with somebody for doing something wrong against you? (ANS: Yes; “getting even” is the opposite of forgiving somebody.)
  4. What about saying, “That’s OK; I don’t care,” when somebody wrongs you. Is that OK? (ANS: It’s not really OK if you mean you’re not really dealing with the issue. If it means you aren’t thinking about really forgiving the person, that you just don’t want to discuss it, then you still need to talk to the person about the issue and forgive each other.)
  5. Does God say, “That’s OK; you didn’t mean it.” Or does He say, “That’s OK; I know you were afraid.” (ANS: No, although God knows why we did it, God wants us to confess what we’ve done wrong and to believe that He forgives us. God can have mercy on us when we confess the wrong, and ask for and receive forgiveness through Jesus. God says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12)

Journal: If you have time, let students choose one question to draw or write about in their journals.

Close with a circle of prayer; invite everyone to return for another workshop next week and to bring their Bible and a friend.

Lesson sketches by Gail Smith for Kids’ Faith T.R.E.K. at Silverdale United Methodist Church (SUMC), Silverdale, WA

A representative of reformatted this post to improve readability.

Last edited by Luanne Payne

Watch this creative retelling of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant  - it may inspire you to have some fun with the retelling of the story. (Let it go, let it go!!    


Kid Bible Stories, Episode 1 (the unmerciful servant) - about six minutes long, from First Baptist Church of Marble Falls (Texas).

Ways to use this video in class:

  • as a discussion starter/review about what the Bible actually did and did not say. 
  • as inspiration for the class to create their own creative fun retelling.
  • as inspiration for the teacher to shepherd the class through the creative process to retell and re-enact the parable.


The SunScool Bible App for Kids has a lesson presentation with activities for the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, also known as the Foolish Man.

You'll find it in the app's Parables menu when you select either Level 3 or 4 (for readers).

The App is free, ecumenical, and can be downloaded for use on tablets, smartphones, Windows, and Mac!    Get the download link and look up the story you need in our Outline of all 170+ stories in SunScool. That page also includes app helps.

SunScool Bible App for Kids

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