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
Peter asked an interesting question, but it is good that he started with an assumption from spending time with Jesus that we ought to forgive (Matthew 6:14 “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you”) which is one step above many of Jesus followers today and he thought by saying seven times he was being generous:
Peter, in light of what Jesus said about agreement and unity, tries to sound extremely loving by suggesting forgiving a repentant brother up to seven times when three times was the accepted limit taught by the Jewish rabbis of that time.[i]
Seven times may seem like a lot but as Matthew Henry said: He thinks it is a great matter to forgive till seven times; he means not seven times a day, as Christ said (Lu. 17:4), but seven times in his life.[ii] But Jesus says something that kind of blows the whole thought process out of the water: not seven, but seventy times seven.
Now does that mean the 491st time she burns the toast or he leaves the toilet seat up it is now O.K. to not forgive? It is a ludicrous thought building and holding a grudge for that long as we build up our account against them. It reminds me of Red Will Danaher, a character in the movie The Quiet Man with John Wayne.
He had a habit of having his little side kick Feeney writing down the name of everyone who did something he did not like in a little book, keeping some type of score. At one point he had him write the name of Sean Thornton (The John Wayne character) in the book and then strike a line through it muttering “So much for Sean Thornton.”
It seems silly because while he might have some odd pleasure in striking the name it really has no effect on the other person. It is the same in real life, we can harbor un-forgiveness, resentment, and get to the point of bitterness for some real or perceived wrong and it can keep us up at night, give us ulcers but it will not effect the other person one bit. So why hold on to it? Because we can? Because they wronged me and it just is not right and I won’t rest till it is right!? Who suffered the greatest wrong of all? Well, Jesus did. He was found guilty at a mock trial, was beaten, mocked then hung up on a cross and not for anything He did but for us:
For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, [there is] no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were [our] faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he [was] wounded for our transgressions, [he was] bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace [was] upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. –Isaiah 53:2-6
So when we look for an excuse not to forgive remember all Jesus did for you and think on this: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32)
[i] Guzik, David. “Study Guide for Matthew 18.” Blue Letter Bible. 7 Jul 2006. 28 Mar 2007.
[ii] Henry, Matthew. “Commentary on Matthew 18.” Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible. Blue Letter Bible. 01 Mar 1996. 28 Mar 2007<.http://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mhc/Mat/Mat018.html>.