Are you holding a grudge against someone? It’s easy to do. In fact, it’s quite a natural reaction, especially when we have been wronged. Yet how do we move on? How do we bury the hatchet, so to speak? The Biblical solution is “forgiveness,” but how far do we extend forgiveness?
Some 2,000 years ago, Peter posed the question to Jesus, “How many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)
No doubt Peter was proud to appear extraordinarily merciful as to forgive someone seven times. During the first century, the rabbinical custom was to forgive up to three times. Peter’s suggestion to forgive seven times not only doubles this expected number, but adds one to it, perhaps knowing that seven is considered the “perfect number” in the Bible. Surely Jesus would be impressed by Peter’s generosity. Yet Jesus has in view a forgiveness that is exponentially more gracious. He tells Peter, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” God's pardon far exceeds even our most exaggerated ideas about forgiveness. God’s idea of forgiveness, in other words, is beyond calculation or comprehension.
Yet let’s be honest: this is easier said than done. Forgiveness like this appears to be unimaginably difficult. Here’s the thing to remember though: Jesus isn’t necessarily telling us that we need to be doormats on which other people trample. He is not telling us that we must automatically forgive someone for a habitual, unrepentant sin. Rather, the point Jesus is making is that we should never give up in making forgiveness and reconciliation our goals.
The Bible teaches that forgiveness is possible because of God. The source of our forgiveness is God’s forgiveness of us through Jesus Christ. Author N.T. Wright puts it this way: “Every time you forgive someone else...you pass on a drop of water out of the bucketful that God has already given you.” N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, or as St. Paul reminds us, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
If you are struggling to forgive others, I encourage you to spend some time praying that the Lord would forgive you. Meditate on His mercy, compassion and grace. When you contemplate the depths of God’s mercy in your own life, you will find that God will give you a heart that is more eager to forgive.
May we forgive graciously, abundantly and freely because we have been forgiven more than we can forgive.