I’ve often wondered about and frequently wished I could see the faces of Jesus’ disciples as they reacted to some of the things he said and did. One of the reactions I would really like to have seen was when one of them asked, “How many times do I have to forgive someone? Seven?”
In some ways, seven seems like a pretty generous number. A lot of folks seem to believe once or twice is about enough. Some might think that’s at least one or two too many. I’m pretty sure that Peter or whoever it was thought he was pretty much maxing out the Forgive-O-Meter with “seven.”
If I’ve got my information right—and I did just that at least twice just last week—there is some debate about Jesus’ response. Some translating scholars interpret what he said to have been “seventy times seven” and others—obviously the conservative school—go with “seven times seven.”
While it seems that there’s a pretty amazing bit of difference between forty-nine and four-hundred-and-ninety, I think either number is rather preposterous. You see, Jesus said that was the number of times we should forgive a penitent person IN ONE DAY!! (Sorry for shouting there but, well, it’s sort of disturbing.)
Truth be told, like Peter I’m going to be highly annoyed long before that recalcitrant sonofagun gets to seven times. Another truth be told, my impatience and indignation are actually pretty darn selective.
You see, when it comes to God forgiving me, I really don’t want any limitations. I’d like the official arrangement to be that it’s totally on an “as needed” basis with no set specifications, restrictions or stipulations other than repentance. And I’d like that part to be judged pretty loosely as well. For me. For all you other aggravating so-and-so’s out there, maybe not so much.
And that sort of brings us back around to the original point that Jesus had with Peter, doesn’t it? Whatever measure of grace you desire that God would show to you, show to others. And that right there is where the limitations of the human heart get replaced by the wonderfully liberating power and strength of God’s own Spirit. He is working in us and with us to enable us to do what the world believes impossible: forgive from the heart, again and again and again.
I’d sure like to see Jesus’ reaction when we do that; I bet he grins like a guy who just walked across a mile of water and surprised some of his buddies in a fishing boat.