Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

 

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:21-22, NIV

 
Looking down on a spiral staircase that resembles a seashell.No matter who you are, how you live, where you work, or what you believe, it’s going to be a challenge to get out of this life without being offended by someone, somewhere. The first time someone offends us, it feels like a surprise. We are taken off guard and sucked in by the strength of our emotions. We fight our way through those feelings, coming out on the other side, simply trying to catch our breath.

As time goes on, we realize this is part of life. We are sinners, and so is everyone else. From time to time, we hurt one another. The experience of offense is inevitable. There is simply no getting around it. Sometimes the offense seems minor, but other times, the offense breaks us in two.

Jesus knew we’d be waylaid by this truth. He is no stranger to having people sin against him. When Peter came to Jesus, asking just how many times he needed to put up with a brother or sister who continued to get on his very last nerve, Jesus told him, “Seventy-seven times.”

A lot of speculation has been made about that number, seventy-seven. Did Jesus really mean, seventy-seven? Did he mean seventy times seven? Should we take those numbers literally, or is this Jesus’ way of telling us we need to keep forgiving and forgiving and forgiving…as many times as necessary?

But, let’s be honest. No matter the number, forgiveness is no easy thing. As Bishop Desmond Tutu has said, “True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness, which is costly.”[1] And so, it is significant that Jesus gives this advice to Peter, only after being asked by Peter, “How many times, Lord?”

It is easy to stand on the outside of someone else’s pain and wonder, “Why can’t she forgive?” I know because I’ve been there before, wondering why so-and-so just can’t see the light. Forgiveness, it turns out, is a process; and the process is extremely sacred and personal. The slow work of time, gently infused with the grace-laden power of the Holy Spirit is the only way any of us can get from point “A” to point “B” on that particular journey.

For those of us who’ve accepted Christ’s invitation to come and follow, forgiveness is not an option. It’s not an elective we can cast aside in favor of something that feels lighter, alongside an already heavy load. But Jesus, who suffered the greatest offense of all time, has set the example for us to follow. Seven times. Seventy-seven times. Seventy times seven. It doesn’t really matter, does it? The first step toward forgiveness is the most difficult, but it is that first step that breaks us open to healing, reconciliation, and the deep and holy work of God’s restoration of our hearts and the world in which we live.

Questions to Consider

As you read this selection, did someone come to mind? What is the significance of your thoughts about that person at this time?

What has been your experience of being forgiven?

Prayer

Lord God, forgiveness is so difficult. I confess my desire for revenge rather than restoration. I confess my feelings of pain and disappointment. I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive, or that I even want to be. Have mercy, Lord. In your Name, Amen.

 

[1] http://www.dadalos.org/int/vorbilder/vorbilder/tutu/zitate.htm
Image Credit: CC0 Public Domain.

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