Peter came up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Matthew 18:21-22, RSV
Before we get bogged down in the math of this saying, let me point out that in the ancient world, seven was understood to be a number of perfection or completeness. So when Peter asks if he is to forgive seven times, he thinks he is being very generous. Yet Jesus replies that in the Kingdom of God, forgiveness is to be without limit. Peter approaches this question of forgiveness from a legalistic point of view, wanting to know how much forgiveness is enough. Yet Jesus clearly says that God’s forgiveness knows no bounds. In fact, the only stipulation is that since God’s forgiveness is unlimited, even though we don’t deserve it, we also are to forgive without limit. True forgiveness is a matter of the spirit and must be given freely and without reservation.
Years ago, when I was the rector of St. Peter’s in Brenham, I had a parishioner who had a habit of saying, “Of those to whom much is given, much is expected.” And that was the way he lived his life. He knew that what Paul said in Ephesians 4:32 is true. As Christians we are to “
be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
I can’t think about forgiveness without remembering
A Father’s Prayer Upon the Murder of His Son
by Bishop Dehqani-Tafti of Iran. It is too long to include the whole text today, but ponder the depth of forgiveness shown in these lines:
O God. We remember not only our son but also his murderers; not because they killed him in the prime of his youth and made our hearts bleed and our tears flow, but because through their crime we now follow thy footsteps more closely in the way of sacrifice. O God, our son’s blood has multiplied the fruit of the Spirit in the soil of our souls; so when his murderers stand before thee on the day of judgement remember the fruit of the Spirit by which they have enriched our lives. And forgive.
The Oxford Book of Prayer
, General Editor: George Appleton, Oxford University Press, New York 1985, pp. 135-136.
The Rev. John R. Bentley, Jr.