Seventy-Seven Times (Matthew 18:21)
Peter, the Rock, began his walk with Christ, as we all do -asking clueless questions. He asked, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” He might as well have asked, “At what point does unforgiveness become sin?” St. Paul said, “When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and think like a child, and argue like a child, but now I am a man, all childish ways are put behind me.”
Many, if not most, of Peter’s peers felt unforgiveness was acceptable, even righteous, as long as it was “equitable”. If someone poked out one of your eyes, it would be justifiable retaliation to poke out one of theirs. But Peter’s short time with Jesus changed his view of things. So he must have felt quite enlightened, to have so magnanimously set his forgiveness threshold to the height of seven wrongs –as seven was the number of divine perfection. In spite of his progress, he still possessed a childish understanding of forgiveness.
The rug was pulled out from under Peter’s feet when Jesus responded, “Not seven … but seventy-seven times.” For Peter, Christ’s response demanded, not just a reset, but a fundamental reformatting of his sense of justice. For Peter, wrongs had to be righted, dignity had to be defended, and mercy could only be extended so far.
“Seventy-Seven” was the number for infinity, and even God could not be expected to endure such wrong, let alone a mere man. Peter must have been beyond conflicted. He understood that it was Jesus’ nature to forgive. But he could not yet understand the nature of forgiveness. He was still stuck in the paradigm that life should be fair, and justice should prevail. Before he could learn to unconditionally forgive, he first had to experience the need for unjustifiable forgiveness.
Peter had to first betray his most cherished friend, his Lord and Master. He had to learn the emptiness, the despair, the guilt and shame of breaking the trust of the one who unreservedly believed in him. He had to be convulsed by tears of remorse to learn the meaning of forgiveness. Peter not only abandoned his friend to die alone, but denied knowing him three times. Three, the number for completion, was the descriptor of his guilt.
We cannot love unless we first know God’s Love. Neither, can we forgive, unless we first know God’s forgiveness. In having sinned greatly, Peter was forgiven greatly. Jesus, the source of Love, is so, the source of Forgiveness. He who has been loved, knows God. And he who has been forgiven, knows both God and love.
Forgiveness then, is first and foremost, an Act of God, the personification of Jesus, who came to undo what the Devil has done (1John 3:8). The Devil comes to steal our birthright as children of God, to divide His Body –to undo the Unity of the Holy Spirit. The instant we become aware of unforgiveness beginning to raise its ugly head, we must renounce it, by affirming our Kinship to God, by willing his Spirit to be released into the wounds of our lives.
Unforgiveness is never an option in the Kingdom of God, since our willingness to forgive others is the prerequisite for the forgiveness of our own sinfulness. Our union with God is inseparable from that to which he is united: the humanity which so easily offends us. Our commitment to unity, then, must be one and the same, with our desire for Eternal Life with God.
If Unforgiveness is the work of the Devil, then Forgiveness is the work of the Holy Spirit. Forgiveness is not merely a gratuitous act of altruism, it is the restoration of the Body of Christ. It is God made manifest in the Wounds of Humanity. It is the Pinnacle of Redemption, of Grace Revealed. Forgiveness is Mercy Re-Given.Save me Lord from my childish, petty and arrogant pride which is so quick to judge guilty, so bound to demand justice, so entrenched that I cannot let loose the hurt that wounds me. Lord, of my darkest sin you have forgiven me –its abhorrence deterred not your love. Jesus, may the Blood of your Cross impel me to embrace your Cherished Ones whom I have deemed unworthy. Father, if I give way to unforgiveness, may your Holy Spirit withhold my breath until I breathe your words of forgiveness.