How many times must we forgive one another? Jesus stuns us with an answer in Matthew 18:21-19:1.
Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”
When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.
We have heard this story told before, of the servant who is forgiven by his compassionate master of his debt, only turn on a fellow servant for his own debt. This is the first time it is preceded by Peter’s question, “how many times must I forgive my brother?” Jesus’ answer is a stunner.
Jesus tells Peter you forgive your brother not seven times – which may seem reasonable on the surface – but seventy-seven! Seventy-seven? It might as well be an infinite number of times. And that’s really the point.
You might be tempted to wonder, won’t your brother take advantage of you if you forgive him so often? Jesus doesn’t want you to become a patsy. He doesn’t want your brother to take advantage of you. He does want you to forgive your brother. To “forgive your brother from your heart.”
And lest you think this is just a family matter, “brother” here means anyone who offends or injures you.
The hardest thing to do is to forgive someone who has offended or especially injured you. God wants us to dig deep into ourselves, deep into our hearts, and forgive them. God loves us. When we forgive, we share – express – that love. And the lessen from the rest of this reading is, to borrow from Jesus’ beautiful prayer the Our Father (Lord’s Prayer), God forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
It is human to hold something in, to have unresolved issues, to hold a grudge. It is divine to forgive. The Father sent the Son to teach us how to transform from the human to the divine. The divine is love — pure love. The road to the divine may take a lifetime. But to reach the Kingdom of God requires that we walk that road. And that means we must forgive one another from the heart “seventy-seven times,” in essence, every time.
It’s about love, everyone. God so loved the world and He wants us to love the world, too.