I’ve often wondered if Peter was really asking, “If someone sins against me, seriously, how many times must I forgive? Maybe Peter was thinking –“Okay, other rabbis have taught that three times is enough to forgive, but Jesus, well, he’s always pushing us to do more, to be more, maybe seven times will please him.” Maybe Peter thought this would be showing extreme forgiveness. I mean, after all, how many times could you forgive a person, the same person, for a sin against you, perhaps the same sin? And how great a sin must we forgive? I think that Peter wanted to put a legal limit on forgiveness. He wanted a number where he could finally say, “That’s it! I’ve had it! I’ve done everything I was supposed to do – No more Mr. Nice Guy for me!”
Haven’t we all felt that way at some point? We all carry old baggage where we keep our hurts hidden away. We all have grudges that we lug around, sacks full of hurt and piles of pain that we just can’t let go of. We all have that burden which prevents us from fulfilling our God given destiny.
For many years I carried the burden of an unforgiving spirit after the murder of my brother. Those years were filled with pain, hate, rage and fear. God took all of that hurt and pain and gave it meaning. He helped me overcome my unforgiving spirit through prayer and His faithfulness until ten years later when I was able to forgive one of the young men imprisoned for my brother’s murder. God gave meaning to my ordeal by allowing me to bring His message of love to others who are crime victims and those who have been incarcerated for their acts of violence. Now, each day I try to remember the forgiveness I have been given as I think of forgiving others.
“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.” ~ Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)