How Many Times Do We Forgive Others
Who finds it easy to forgive someone who has really hurt you? For some forgiveness comes a little easier than for others, but for most of us, we reach a certain limit in forgiveness. When someone really offends us, hurts us, and remains arrogantly unrepentant, we find it quite difficult to forgive. Why should I forgive someone after the terrible harm they did to me? Why should I forgive them if they aren’t sorry for what they did? Every time I see them, I don’t want to forgive them, but I want to curse them! And even if I do forgive them once, do I keep forgiving them if they continue? How often should I forgive someone?
Like many teaches of Jesus Christ, his words on forgiveness are quite clear and extremely radical. And many of us don’t like to hear them because they seem so difficult!
When Peter asked Jesus “How many times must I forgive my brother? Up to seven times?” our Lord shocked him with his response. Peter was a faithful Jew, and in Jewish tradition, it says you may ask someone for forgiveness up to three times, but no more is necessary. So, Peter thought quite good of himself when he generously offered to forgive another “up to seven times.”
Jesus isn’t content, however, with human generosity! He wants us to be filled with His divine spirit. And thus, forgiving someone up to seven times isn’t enough! He tells Peter “Not seven, but 70 x 7!” Christ reminds Peter of our call to imitate our heavenly Father. He wants us to forgive like our heavenly Father forgives. He wants us to live with God’s spirit of unlimited mercy and grace, with a heart filled with forgiveness and compassion towards others!
Note carefully, Jesus doesn’t say that we forgive others because they deserve it. Think about this for a moment. We don’t forgive others because they deserve it! Mercy is not mercy precisely if someone deserves it. It’s mercy exactly when the other doesn’t deserve it; when we choose to give it freely and undeservedly to others.
Offering such mercy and grace opens up our heat to receiving more and more of God’s own mercy and grace. When we choose to limit our own mercy and grace towards others, when we choose to number how many times we forgive others, we are closing our heart to receive God’s great mercy. It isn’t that God won’t forgive us, but we turn away from His unconditional and extreme love; we reject His mercy and compassion.
We become like the unforgiving servant in today’s Gospel story. We just heard the story a few moments ago. A servant owed a king an insurmountable debt. Ten thousand talents would be equivalent to millions of dollars for a servant who could never possibly repay this in his lifetime. The king, though, forgives the servant his debt for no other reason than his great mercy. Following this incredible act of grace, this same servant meets a fellow servant who owes him 100 days wages. 100 days wages isn’t an insignificant amount. For a servant, it was a serious debt owed to him. Yet, following the king’s extreme and radical mercy, the servant should have imitated similar mercy. Instead, he forgets the king’s grace and forgiveness, and chooses to NOT forgive his fellow servant. And in this act of not forgiving, he turns away from God. He rejects his master’s mercy. His hardness of heart, his arrogant rejection of God’s mercy, in the end harms himself, because he no longer stays open to God’s gracious spirit.
Whenever we question WHY we should forgive another, especially when they don’t deserve our forgiveness, we need to remember this story. We forgive others NOT because they deserve it. If they deserved it, our act of forgiveness wouldn’t be an act of mercy. Mercy is something that another doesn’t deserve. Mercy is mercy precisely because we offer it as an undeserved gift! And this is what God offers each of us every day! Each and every day!!!
If we want to cultivate the heart of God within ourselves, we need to imitate Him. If we want want to always keep our hearts and minds and souls open to God’s spirit, having Christ dwell in us, we need to follow His example.
As Jesus was dying on the Cross, he looked at his murderers – the religious leaders, the Roman soldiers, the masses who abandoned him and betrayed him – and as He was dying says, “Father, forgive them for them know not what they do.”
The Romans weren’t repentant. The religious leaders weren’t sorry. The masses of people who shouted “Crucify Him. Crucify Him.” weren’t changing their ways. Yet, our Lord set the prime example for all his followers to imitate. He forgave them even before they repented. In fact, He not only forgave them, but through the cross He took upon himself the sins of the world, and forgave the entire world BEFORE the world understood who He truly was.
Here is the divine and radical forgiveness and mercy of God! Undeserved. Unlimited. Extremely difficult. Absolutely incomprehensible. Yet this is the mercy and love that Jesus calls us, his followers, to imitate. When he tells Peter to forgive others 70 x 7, he uses an expression that implies perfection. Seven was a symbolic number meaning completion, perfection. God calls each one of us to forgive as He forgives, in a perfect and divine way!
Jesus meets a woman caught in the act of adultery, and before she asks for forgiveness, he says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Christ meets people who are sick with physical illnesses, and even though they are focused on physical healing, he offers them forgiveness from their sins. Our Lord meets Saul in the acts of persecuting and killing Christians, following the murderer of St. Stephen, and he not only forgives him, but calls him to become one of his greatest followers. And thinking of Stephen, we have a perfect human example of a man like you and me, who was so filled with God’s Spirit that while he was being murdered, he forgave his murderers. No, they didn’t “deserve” forgiveness. No, they weren’t even repentant for what they were doing. Yet, Stephen still forgave them! His heart was open to the Spirit of God, and thus He was able to show mercy to others. Radical and divine mercy and forgiveness!
So today, remember that when we choose to forgive others, even those who have greatly harmed us, we are choosing to open up our heart to receive God’s mercy and grace. Yet when we choose NOT to forgive another, we are choosing to turn away from God’s mercy and love. It is as if, we are choosing to allow a cancer that will kill us, to stay within us. Holding on to resentment and bitterness is holding on to poison that will destroy our soul. We may feel good for a moment holding on to our anger, our hatred, our bitterness, our desire to curse out another. Yet such feelings will be short-lived, and in the end, we close our hearts to God’s amazing grace and mercy.
How many times must we forgive another? Seventy times seven. An unlimited and a divine amount of mercy. This is what God offers us. This is what He expects us to offer others!