Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. Matthew 18:21, 22 (KJV)
I don’t know about you, but injustice is the most difficult thing for me to forgive–when someone thoughtlessly (or with premeditation) harms someone else, and the injury isn’t deserved. There seems to be a lot of injustice going around the world just now, so much so that we are all affected.
How is it possible to ever forgive the perpetrators of all the griefs that they inflict? I absolutely cannot, but Jesus can. I tend to look at the suffering through the lens of my own humanity. I could never… I would never… do so and so… forgetting that I’m already identified with all those who like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6), and that all my goodness is nothing better than dirty, filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
One of my favorite bishops says that unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die. Unforgiveness gnaws away at us, diminishes our quality of life, makes us bitter, and eventually destroys us. The spiritual cost is huge. Jesus said, Father, “Forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12 LB) If God forgives us in proportion and in the same way as we forgive others, we could be in a lot of trouble.
So, how do we pull this off? We do it by an act of the will. Forgiveness is not an emotion. It’s a behavior. Jesus told us we would be obedient if we love him (John 14:15). When Peter impulsively suggested that one should perhaps forgive an offense up to seven times, Jesus shocked him by saying seventy times seven. That’s 490 times of forgiving just one offending person.
If we love Jesus, we will forgive – just as he has forgiven us. We will decide to forgive based on Jesus’ words, not on the repentance of the other person or on his worthiness, and we find God’s grace in us empowers us to forgive. I once heard Archbishop Tutu say that we are obligated to forgive, but the one being forgiven cannot receive forgiveness until he has repented. It’s really not up to us to hang on to our grievances. Jesus didn’t with us, thank God.
Father, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.