At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”
Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.”
Matthew 18: 21-22 The Message
Throughout the gospel, we hear more from Peter than from any of the other disciples. Sometimes he says things which are good, and even brilliant. Other times, he says the silliest and almost inappropriate things. It seems that Peter is always saying something. Sometimes, it appears that he speaks before reflecting upon the wisdom of opening his mouth in the first place. Almost an “open mouth, insert foot” style.
Yet here, Peter asks a question which many of us might be inclined to ask Jesus, if we were brave enough to do so. Namely, is there a limit we can put on how often we are to forgive a person who sins against us? Peter not only asks the question, but then he goes on to offer his own guess about the upper limit for forgiveness.
What is Peter’s upper limit for forgiveness? Seven times. Our culture would have you believe that seven is far too permissive, and far too forgiving. The saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me,” seems to imply that even giving second chances should be given careful thought, let alone seven!
Yet, Jesus states that forgiveness should be offered not seven times, but seventy times seven! Jesus is not really saying 490 times, but hundreds of times! Perhaps Jesus knows how often we are going to need forgiveness, so he encourages us to be abundant and extravagant when it comes to forgiving other people. Forgiveness needs to be like the infinite number Pi 3.1415926535…….. There should be no end to our ability to forgive.
Forgiving someone else is not as easy as it may sound. The expression “Forgive and Forget” is pretty difficult. Our brain tends to make a hard copy of these things. However, we do have the ability to be like a white board, and clean off those memories, praying our way through each hurtful situation. We can ask God to keep us from retrieving those painful memories, and instead help us persist in giving the gift of forgiveness, as we would like the gift given to us.
Instead of asking how many times would you forgive someone, perhaps the better question is “how many times would you like to be forgiven”? Anyone who has been married any length of time can attest to the fact that an infinite number is a good goal for both spouses. Why would we put limits on our forgiveness of others? These are all good questions to ask ourselves.
Jesus’ reply to Peter’s question challenges us to broaden and enlarge our vision of God’s extravagant grace and forgiveness to us, and then to imitate it!
Jesus calls Peter, and us, to not be stingy when it comes to doling out forgiveness. In other words, let us not be miserly with the love of God, or our love for others, for He is most certainly not stingy with His love for us.
Lord, often we begin or pray by saying, “forgive us.” Help us to have a deeper understanding of what we are asking. Help us to realize the importance of not only giving, but also receiving the gift of forgiveness. When we confess our sins to You, thank You for cleaning off our white board. Allow us to follow Your example. May we offer the love to others which You abundantly give to us. We pray this prayer in Your most Holy name. Amen.