21 Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. - Matthew 18-21-22
A word that seems to be disappearing from conversations today is forgiveness. In a world driven by deadlines and time pressures, mistakes are usually highlighted and judgments are often swift. One mistake in word or deed can cause a person to go from hero to villain or an in-demand brand to a “has been”. It is an imperfect world expecting perfection from its citizens. Unfortunately, the same standards used to measure perfection on others are rarely used by the “judges” to examine themselves.
Knowing the hearts of men, Jesus began to address this issue in Matthew 18. As with everything else Jesus said and did, His words relate to our lives today. In this chapter, we find Peter asking Jesus a sincere and thoughtful question. He asked how many times we should forgive someone who has done wrong against us. In order to make it clearer and yet still sound “spiritual”, Peter then asked if we should forgive up to seven times. Subtly underlying Peter’s question was his thought that there should be a limit to forgiveness. In fact, many of you reading this blog have the same opinion. You probably know someone who continues to do wrong towards you and that person may have exhausted your compassion and forgiveness for them. Everyone encounters a person like this sometime during his or her life.
Jesus addressed the root of Peter’s question with an amazing response. His said:
“I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
For those of you who are counting, this is 490 times! Can you imagine someone slandering you or calling you inappropriate names 490 times and you forgave them each time? Jesus certainly is expecting real patience and forgiveness! As often as someone asks to be forgiven, we must forgive them. Jesus’ use of 490 times really means there is no limit to forgiveness. In other words, Jesus expects us to forgive others in the same way He forgives us. If you think about the frequency in which we have sinned each day and then multiply that by the number of days we have lived thus far, the tally is far greater than 490! He expects us to follow His example, which means we must continually forgive others.
When you look inside your heart and examine your true feelings, you will realize that sometimes forgiveness is difficult to offer. Jesus knew this but He also knew the sin of unforgiveness never exists alone. It always invites its friends named bitterness, anger, revenge, depression and more. Jesus could have also chosen to be bitter or angry because the people He came to rescue crucified Him. Instead, He chose to ask the Father to “forgive them for they know not what they do”. Let us all work towards choosing to forgive.