Then Peter came to him and said, “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
It’s a safe assumption that Jesus, in responding to Peter’s question, did not mean that we should forgive someone 490 times and then be done with it. Seventy times seven suggests that forgiveness should be limitless – as bountiful as the forgiveness of God.
Forgiveness, along with loving our enemies as well as our neighbors, are clear imperatives of the Christian faith, direct commands from Jesus. Yet Christians often have as hard a time as anyone in forgiving those they feel have wronged them.
Think of how many times churches, of all places, are torn apart by what boils down to a refusal to forgive. Prideful obstinance overcomes the good news of the gospel too often among those who claim to be Jesus’s followers.
Think how powerful, on the other hand, are those examples of reconciliation fueled by forgiveness – whether in the small corners of our lives are on the world stage, as when Pope John Paul II met and blessed the man who had tried and come close to murdering him.
Forgiveness is not natural – or at least we think it’s not – and it’s not easy. But it is absolutely essential to human health, peace and contentment.
Jesus wanted us to live abundantly. That’s undoubtedly why he put so much emphasis on forgiveness.
The Greek word for forgiveness means to “let go.” When we forgive, an enormous burden is lifted, and it really doesn’t matter whether the person we are forgiving has apologized or is in the least bit remorseful.
Americans know they need forgiveness, but interestingly, a large majority of us place conditions on our forgiveness of others. At least that’s the finding of a survey by the Michigan-based Fetzer Institute, reported in a short item on the front of today’s Faith amp& Religion page. Sixty percent of the survey respondents said “forgiving someone would first depend on the offender apologizing and making changes.”
So what happens if the offender doesn’t behave to suit us, doesn’t seem to care about getting our forgiveness? If that’s a condition for our forgiveness, we nurture that seething anger, even hate, which eats away at us. The person we won’t forgive then has full command of us.
When we forgive, we escape that grip and liberate ourselves, as well as act in the reconciling way that God desires.
“Forgive us our trespasses (or sins or debts) as we forgive those who trespass against us,” go the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer. Notice that we are asking for God’s forgiveness under the assumption that we’ve already forgiven others.
Jesus forgave those who nailed him to the cross, before anyone repented or asked for it. We are to forgive others because God’s forgiveness for us is limitless – and because God wants us to be free.
NEMS Daily Journal