The Prisoner Who Set Himself Free
When you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free—yourself.
“No!” snapped the prisoner from behind the iron bars of the cold, gray cell. The thick stone walls afforded only a tiny window that peeked out to the surrounding world.
“Please let me go! You must,” the jailer insisted.
“Why should I?” demanded the prisoner.
“Because there’s no use carrying on like this. It’s gone on too long.”
“So what? You deserve it.”
“Maybe I do. But you’re the one who’s hurting.”
“I didn’t deserve it. You victimized me! I hate you!”
“But you’re victimizing yourself now,” said the jailer.
“No, I’m not,” the prisoner huffed. “I’m doing just what I want, and you need to stay in prison.”
The jailer sighed and turned away. He went about his duties and carried on with his day, while the prisoner languished in his cell.
The prisoner stared out of his window. He could not let the jailer go. Everyone knew that the jailer didn’t deserve forgiveness, even if he did apologize. Nothing could undo the injustice he had committed.
The next day, the jailer stopped by the prisoner again and looked in. “Are you going to let me go yet?”
The prisoner glared at him and dropped his arms. They only looked at each other. The jailer turned away and attended to his work, while the prisoner slouched in his cell.
The next day the jailer again stopped at the cell door. “Forgiving me does not mean that what happened was okay. It means that you let go of your anger.”
The prisoner paced back and forth.
“Forgiveness means that you let go of your desire to judge me and instead let the Almighty Judge deal with me.”
The prisoner stood still.
The jailer leaned forward. “Will you get out of the Almighty Judge’s seat?”
The prisoner looked at him, then stepped forward and gripped the bars. “What you did was inexcusable.”
“And deserves punishment.”
The prisoner turned his back.
“But should you keep punishing yourself in here?” asked the jailer.
The prisoner hesitated, then said, “No, I don’t deserve this.”
“That’s right. You don’t. The only thing to do is to let your anger go. And let me go.”
The prisoner looked back. “That means I must forgive you, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, you must. There is no other way. You’ve tried them all.”
The prisoner groaned, grit his teeth, and seethed.
The jailer waited patiently.
“Alright,” the prisoner said. “I . . . forgive you.”
The jailer leaned closer. “Really?”
“Yes, really. I forgive you.”
The jailer extended a key through the bars. The prisoner took it and held it a moment, then put it into the lock of the prison cell door. He turned it and the door opened. The prisoner stepped out of the jail. He squinted his eyes under the sun and stumbled around, adjusting to the light. Looking at the flowers and grass and trees swaying in the breeze, he said, “I didn’t remember the sun was so bright . . . or the air so fresh . . . or the colors so beautiful.” He looked back at the jailer. “Who kept me in there so long?”
For Thought and Discussion
- When you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free. Then you discover that the prisoner was yourself. Describe how this parable occurs in real life. Tell how it has occurred in your life.
- Forgiveness does not mean saying a wrong was okay. It was not okay. Forgiveness means you let go of your anger, and in so doing, you also pardon the other person from your judgment, you get out of God’s rightful judgment seat, and leave judgment in the hands of God, who said “vengeance is mine.” Read Romans 12:17–21. How does believing and following this passage make forgiveness more possible for you or someone else?
- Read the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21–35. Many people are like the unmerciful servant without realizing it. Are you or have ever been unforgiving toward someone? Jesus gives us a simple choice: forgive or face imprisonment and punishment. Is this something you need to deal with?