Then Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?” Matthew 18:21
Depending on the Bible translation, the answer to Peter’s question is either seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven—which is a whopping four hundred ninety times. The point is that we should forgive often and not keep too close a tally of infractions. The rationale may be more difficult to accept than it is to understand. We have been forgiven so much by God, how can we withhold an ounce of forgiveness from others? We shouldn’t. And forgiveness should be quick to come, as well.
When someone offers us an unkind word or dredges up a past and painful history, when a friend or family member reacts inappropriately in the heat of a given moment, we can stew about it or forgive the offense and move on. The trouble with holding back our forgiveness is that days turn into weeks and week into months . . . and then years pass and hearts grow hard and estrangement deepens, all because no one was willing to apologize or forgive. How often should we forgive? A ton, and without delay.
Why do you withhold forgiveness?
Lord, You have forgiven me . . . I should forgive others. It is simple to understand, and yet so difficult to implement. What if someone doesn’t ask for my forgiveness? Or what if the sin or offense is too great? What am I supposed to do then? I know what You have said: forgive seventy-seven times, four hundred ninety times, forgive as we would want to be forgiven, forgive often and a lot—which is exactly what you offer us. Thank You, teacher. In Your name, I pray. AMEN.