Last week in my series working through the Gospel of Matthew I mentioned Jesus’ response to Peter’s question asking how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him.(Matt 18:21-23) Peter characteristically proposed an answer he thought Jesus would be pleased with – a generous seven times! Jesus quickly countered with, “seventy times that!”
The translation from the Greek can read “seven times seven”, “seventy times seven” and “seventy seven times seven.” Thank you for those who pointed out my appalling maths.
(For those interested:
7 x 7 = 49
7 x 70 = 490
7 x 77 = 539)
But the total is not the main point. Jesus’ aim was to make the point that there are no limits to be set on forgiveness. To make sure the point was made he went on to tell a parable – the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. There was a man who owed an enormous sum of money – the equivalent of 20 years of fulltime wages. He is forgiven this enormous debt but could not bring himself to forgive his neighbour who had a very small debt in comparison, about 20 days of wages.
The contrast is great and Jesus’ point is clear. Peter has been forgiven a great debt by God, and any sin against him pales into insignificance compared to God’s generosity.
God has forgiven us a debt we can never pay. He has forgiven us our sin through the obedience of Jesus dying on a cross. We who have been forgiven such a great debt must forgive those who sin against us. How many times? Seven? “No,” says Jesus, “you never stop forgiving!”
In fact, the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray implies that if we do not forgive our fellow man we cannot expect God to forgive us. As we accept God’s mercy to us, we pass that mercy on to others.
Let us pray that God will teach us how to be kind and forgive others as God has forgiven us.
Stephen L Baxter