We saw yesterday that the relatives of 21 young Coptic Christians from Egypt were able to forgive ISIS murderers because of their faith in Jesus Christ. It is precisely this aspect which differentiates the Christian faith from other religions. In his discourse on the Kingdom ethics, Jesus Christ so unequivocally stressed forgiveness that Apostle Peter had to ask him for a clarification as he could not believe that Jesus would recommend forgiveness in such a way.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18: 21)
It was not a common practice in Israel or anywhere else in Jesus’ time to offer forgiveness to someone who is bent upon hurting and offending you. Therefore, Peter thought he was too generous by asking if one could forgive seven times, as the number seven in the Bible represents completeness and perfection. (“Seven” is used about 735 times in the Bible. It appears to be derived from the seven days of creation by God and that the Sabbath was on the 7th day of the week. For further significance of the number seven, please read: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/09/26/what-does-the-number-seven-7-mean-or-represent-in-the-bible/).
To Peter’s astonishment, Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18: 22 NIV). Or, as in other versions: “seventy times seven” (KJV, NASB, ASB). Of course, Jesus did not mean to forgive 7, 70, or even 490 times. Jesus was not dealing with numbers or mathematics at all but with something deeper at a spiritual level. What he wanted for Peter and his followers to understand is that, in the Kingdom ethics, which Jesus had come to establish, forgiveness doesn’t depend on a specific number. Just as God’s grace and forgiveness is freely available to the sinner, our forgiveness need to be unlimited. It should be offered whenever the occasion arises. Jesus also knew that the average lifespan of a person is about seventy years as Psalm 90: 10 had observed. Therefore, the followers of Jesus are commanded to forgive as long as the offender lives. That would be a complete and perfect forgiveness according to Jesus.
Apostle Paul understood this very well. That’s why he wrote to the church in Ephesus:
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4: 32).
Paul repeats it again:
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3: 13)
What is our attitude to forgiveness today? Are we calculating when it comes to forgiving others who have offended us? Are we keeping a record of all people who wronged us and the number of times we have given them a second chance? May the words of our Lord lead us today to offer complete and unlimited forgiveness to whoever needs it. Amen.