The old man who lives under the bridge – Part 2

Published 4:23 pm Thursday, June 29, 2023

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By R.A. Tea Mathews

For several years, I’ve looked forward to seeing the old man who lives under the bridge. He has his own street corner, which I pass regularly. Sometimes, when traffic is slow, I get a few extra minutes to catch up with him.

One day, without warning, he disappeared. Naturally, I was concerned.

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Months later, I eyed a man who looked like the old man.

Sort of.

But this man was standing on a different corner. Moreover, he had bathed, and his hair had been cut.

Still, I kept studying him.

Just then, the man saw me. He grinned, raised his hand, and waved.

My vehicle was stopped at the light but I was in the middle lane. He immediately threaded through the standing traffic, passing one car and then another, until he reached me.

“I didn’t recognize you!” I said. “I was worried. Where have you been?”

“In jail,” he said.


I have come to know this old man and he is a gentle soul. He’s neither violent nor a criminal.

“Why were you in jail?” I asked.

“A woman called the law on me.”

“For what?”


“Trespassing?” I asked. “You went to jail for trespassing?”

He nodded, but there was no anger in his voice. He didn’t seem bitter toward the woman.

The incident made me think of a story Jesus told. It seems Peter had come to the Lord and asked how many times he must forgive. Do you recall what Jesus said?

  1. Seven times.
  2. Seventy times.
  3. One hundred times.
  4. None of the above.

Select your choice and here’s the Scripture:

Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I still forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times.” (which can also be translated seventy times seven). (Matthew 18:22)

The correct answer is No. 4, “None of the above.”

What Jesus was telling Peter and the disciples was that there’s no end to forgiveness. The Lord immediately reinforced His message with a parable. What was it about?

  1. The king and the two slaves.
  2. The sower and the seed.
  3. The pearl of great price.
  4. None of the above.

I’ll give you a hint. The Lord’s powerful story is about a man who owed a huge debt. Select your choice and here’s the passage:

Jesus said to his disciples, “…the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. But since he did not have the means to repay, his master commanded that he be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment be made. So the slave fell to the ground … saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ And the master of that slave felt compassion, and he released him and forgave him the debt.” (Matthew 18:24-27)

But that’s not how the story ends. There’s a second slave. The correct answer is No. 1, “The king and the two slaves.”

What happened with the second slave?

  1. His debt was forgiven.
  2. He and his family were sold.
  3. He ended up in prison.
  4. None of the above.

Select your choice and here’s the passage:

“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii (a much smaller sum); and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe!’ So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ But he was unwilling, and went and threw him in prison until he would pay back what was owed.” (Matthew 18:28-30)

The correct answer is No. 3, “He ended up in prison.”

The story ends when the angry king, after discovering what happened, puts the first slave in jail to be tortured until he repays the debt.

Jesus ends this message by telling his disciples chilling words: “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:35)

You can be like the woman who decided the gentle old man needed jailed for trespassing or you can be like the old man, who completely forgave her.

You don’t have to extend mercy, but neither will your heavenly Father offer mercy to you.

“Forgive,” Jesus said.

Without end, forgive.

The Rev. Mathews, BA, MDiv, JD, is a newspaper faith columnist and the author of “Reaching to God.” Contact her at to join her 1-Minute Bible Study.

Copyright © 2023 R.A. Mathews. All rights reserved.