Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.”
Forgiveness is a funny thing. It is the most wonderful gift, but it is hard to receive sometimes. When I think about forgiveness, I realize that I often talk about forgiveness as an abstract—it’s a good thing to give and to receive—without actually feeling what forgiveness is like.
Forgiveness is hard to accept unless we participate in its process. In other words, unless I admit that I hurt someone, or acknowledge that I was wrong in something, forgiveness seems shallow. Another tricky thing about forgiveness is our tendency to want to keep score. If I forgive her, she’ll have to forgive me. Or, I have forgiven him six times; he owes me as much.
No, no, says Jesus. When Peter asks him about keeping score, Jesus uses exaggeration to get his point across. Forgiveness is not about keeping score; it’s about understanding what it FEELS LIKE. It feels like pure grace; like being relieved of a suffocating burden, like being able to breathe deeply and go to sleep. When we feel that, it’s hard to withhold it from someone else.
God has already forgiven us more times than we can count, and when we know that deep in our bones, we can throw away our calculators when it comes to forgiving others (and ourselves). Barbara Taylor writes,
It is not a matter of earning your forgiveness, or letting others off the hook so that you will be let off the hook yourself. It’s a matter of understanding that you have already been forgiven, that someone to whom you owe everything…has taken the stack of your IOUs and torn them in two, balancing your books in one fell swoop for one reason: because that someone wants to remain in relationship with you and wants you to be free to respond.
O God, you have given us so much. Give us one thing more: grateful, forgiving hearts. Amen.
Copyright ©2005 Margaret Jones.