Not Seven Times But Seventy-Seven Times
Tuesday of the 3rd Week of Lent
When our Lord Jesus answered Peter’s question on how often they are asked to forgive others, he gave them a number. Jesus answered Peter quantitatively since his question also had a numeric equivalent. To the question of Peter how often forgiveness is to be granted, Jesus answers that it is to be given without limit and illustrates this with the parable of the unmerciful servant, warning that his heavenly Father will give those who do not forgive the same treatment as that given to the unmerciful servant. The Jews believe that forgiving the same person three times was required. Peter wants to show that he is willing to go twice that plus one, thus he uses the number seven (7) which means a full number of times. Jesus says, not just a full number but a full number plus a full number times 10, that is, always. Jesus is telling Peter (and us) that our forgiveness of others must be unconditional, without limits, and always.
For success in any penitential work we must be ready to forgive the faults of others. We, as sinners, humbly beg God’s forgiveness. The prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, the Our Father, gives a condition to our asking for forgiveness from God, “and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” (Matthew 6:12) This is exactly what Jesus did especially when he hung dying on the cross: he forgave those who have led him to suffering. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 NAB)
Brothers and sisters, in our Lenten journey, the Church is teaching us through the Word of God the essentials of the spiritual life: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We forgive others because God will treat us exactly as we treat others. Notice that GIVE occurs in the word FORGIVE. If we are not somehow making a free gift to the person we forgive, we are not really forgiving; we may even be taking a subtle way: binding the person’s hand and foot. To give grudgingly and in a miserly way is to kill a person’s spirit, because it is to define this life of ours as a mean thing. If we are encouraged to give, let us give generously. It is the same way with forgiving: forgive generously!
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