70 times 7
In today’s Gospel, Peter approached Jesus and asked how many times he must forgive his brother; he even suggested if he should limit it to seven times. Jesus’ response of “77 times” (or “70 times 7 times”) means that we should forgive without limit. In the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, we saw what happened to the servant who, after having been forgiven by his master for a huge debt, refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a small debt.
It isn’t difficult to figure out that in this parable, the master represents God, while the servants represent us. The teaching of the parable is simple and straightforward – forgive others and you will be forgiven. Stated in another way, you won’t be forgiven if you don’t forgive others. This teaching is so basic in the Gospels, that Jesus taught us to pray to the Father: Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. It is a principle in which we ought to live by.
The Book of Sirach tells us the same message: Forgive your neighbor the wrong done to you; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven. Does anyone nourish anger against another and expect healing from the LORD? Can one refuse mercy to a sinner like oneself, yet seek pardon for one’s own sins? If a mere mortal cherishes wrath, who will forgive his sins? (Sirach 28:2-5)
Why is forgiveness difficult to come by? Sometimes, when someone offends us, we tend to magnify the offense into something much bigger than what it really is; when that happens, it becomes harder for us to forgive others. On the other hand, when we are the one who offend others, we tend to minimize our offense with excuses; when that happens, we have trouble understanding why others can’t readily forgive us. And yet, there are also some people who have a hard time forgiving themselves. They find it easy to make excuses for others, but they just can’t get over the fact that they have done something wrong. As a result, they blame themselves unendingly.
In any case, we must discern the root cause of such behavior, and do our best to correct it with the help of God’s grace. It is difficult not to feel offended or to forget an offense, but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into understanding, and it purifies the memory by transforming hurts into prayer. A life without forgiveness is a life without freedom; it is a life that carries a heavy burden.