One day St. Peter said to the other disciples, “You know how Jesus is always talking about forgiveness? Well, I’m gonna ask him a question that will earn me some major Brownie Points!”
So Peter approached Jesus and said, “Master, if my brother sins against me, how often should I forgive him, up to seven times?” Peter glanced back at the other disciples and winked. Forgive someone seven times?! Surely even Jesus will say, “No no, that’s way too many. Two or three times, max.” Peter hoped Jesus also would add, “But that’s very generous of you, Peter, to offer to forgive someone seven times! Good for you.”
However, Jesus stared at Peter for a few moments, then said, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven!”
Stunned, Peter walked back to the disciples. John said, “Well, what did he say? Did you get some Brownie Points?”
Peter shook his head and replied, “Not only did Jesus say we have to forgive, but now we have to do math problems!”
People often say the most powerful three words in the universe are, “I love you.” And that’s probably correct. But three other words are a close second: “I forgive you.”
The words “I love you” are wonderful, and they take a good situation and make it even better. But you can argue that the words “I forgive you” are even more powerful because they take a bad situation and turn it around to make it good.
Jesus was well aware the disciples were not good at math. (Except Matthew, who was a tax collector and had passed the CPA exam, although he never let the other disciples borrow his calculator.) When Jesus said to forgive others seventy times seven, He wasn’t offering a specific number, as if we have to forgive someone exactly 490 times, but on the 491st time, oh boy, that’s it, no mercy!
No, by giving the disciples a math problem, Jesus meant we have to forgive endlessly. No matter how many times someone sins against us, we must be ready and willing to offer forgiveness.
Have you ever heard of “Irish Alzheimer’s”? That’s where you forget everything except the grudges. (And I hear it’s common with other ethnic groups, too.) In many families, there are people who haven’t spoken to each other in decades, and no one even remembers what caused the feud in the first place. But neither party has any interest in being the first one to say “I’m sorry” and offer forgiveness.
Speaking of the words “I’m sorry,” there is a stunning aspect of Jesus’ teaching on forgiveness. He says we must forgive others always, but He doesn’t qualify His teaching with: “…as soon as they apologize and ask for forgiveness.” Whoa, you mean we’re supposed to forgive even if the other person doesn’t ask for forgiveness? Yes.
Now, obviously, if the other person sincerely says, “I’m sorry,” and asks for forgiveness, and then we do indeed forgive him, that is pure joy. That is a complete and glorious reconciliation.
However, even if the other person does not ask for forgiveness, Jesus says we must forgive anyway. Since that won’t end the feud, why should we bother? Because when we forgive others who sin against us, it keeps us from becoming bitter. It keeps up from sinning.
The most perfect example of this is Jesus’ words from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If Jesus could forgive the people who murdered Him, don’t you think we can forgive others who did far less to us?
Jesus commands us to forgive others. We don’t need a calculator. We just have to do it—every single time.