Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
It is easy to get locked into thinking that faith is all about doing what we are supposed to do, and that seems to be where Peter is coming from with his question about how many times we are supposed to forgive. Then when Jesus answers him he shows with a parable that our obligation to forgive is not a set number of times, but it comes from the magnitude of love that God has for us, for God just keeps on forgiving us, day in and day out.
Jesus parable isn’t saying that we should just keep forgiving and forgiving without even thinking about it. Forgiving a person is not just mindlessly hitting a “forgive button” over and over again, but it is about a new way of being. We may squabble over matters we think are important, but they are merely a drop in the bucket when it comes to how much God forgives us. We get angry at the person who took our order wrong in the fast food drive-thru, and we demand a refund, or we refuse to speak to someone because of a petty squabble from years back. Even though we may not ask Jesus, “How many times should we forgive?”, we still hold a grudge against a person who may have wronged us, and we silently mark that person with a mark of NF,” not forgiven”. No doubt we are counting up those NFs as we go through life.
Jesus offers Peter and us through this example the opportunity to think of forgiveness in the context of our own relationship with God. God doesn’t measure how much forgiveness he gives us by what we deserve, but in how much he loves us. God is love, and he forgives us because he loves us.
So it seems that Jesus is trying to teach us to move away from this outdated and false pattern of counting how many times we should forgive, or whether or not a person deserves to be forgiven. If we are truly in relationship with God, a relationship built on love, then we are to forgive as God forgives, not as with a calculator or with conditions. Love doesn’t work that way! As C.S. Lewis once put it: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” I pray for myself as I ask you to pray too, may all of our forgiveness be grounded in the love and forgiveness that God has shown and continues to show to us.
Do you ever feel the need to ‘get even’ with someone who is utterly unrepentant in how they have wounded you?
Have you ever had a difficult time forgiving someone who wronged you and deeply hurt you? Are you still holding that grudge?
Have you ever forgiven someone who hurt you deeply, and let God’s love fill the space in your heart where unforgiveness had lived?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.