How many times is seventy times seven?

16 Sep 2017

 

How many times is seventy times seven?

Peter speaks for each one of us in today's Gospel passage when he says, "How many times am I supposed to forgive the neighbor who keeps sinning? After seven times, if he still sins, what's the point in forgiving him again?"

"No, not seven times," Jesus says, "seventy times seven,"which according to my Father's calculator in heaven, is infinite.

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The name 70x7 is synonymous with God's eternal forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 reads: Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."

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Jesus isn't telling us to forgive our brothers 490 times, or 70 times, or 77 times. He's telling us we should always forgive our brothers when they have sinned against us. God in heaven has forgiven us all of humanity's sins. How wrong it would be for us to deny our brothers and sisters a similar forgiveness for much lesser matters. Back in the book of Matthew (18:23-35), Jesus tells a parable to emphasize this point.

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Why do we find it so hard to forgive others even though it is the only way to gain God’s forgiveness? I think it is because we fail to appreciate and celebrate our own forgiveness. Like the unforgiving servant in the parable, we focus on the 100 denarii that our neighbor owes us rather than the 1000 talents we owe to God which He has graciously cancelled.

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We would rather only forgive people if they "go and sin no more." But waiting for their repentance is harmful to us. When we choose to pray "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing," we break the chains of anger that bind us to what they did. We're no longer a victim of the incident that hurt us. The wounds of our heart and spirit are healed, because we receive directly from Jesus the love that was supposed to come from those who sinned against us.

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Forgiveness, like love, is a decision, not a feeling. It begins with an honest prayer: "Father, I don't want to forgive them, but I choose to forgive them. I ask You to forgive them, too. And please forgive me for holding onto my resentment, anger or bitterness." Did you realize you're already praying this whenever you recite the "Our Father." Jesus taught us to pray, "Father, forgive us as we forgive others." He did NOT add, "Unless, of course, they don't want to stop sinning." Let us pray for deeper appreciation of God’s loving mercy so that we can forgive others, too.

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