Seven times seventy times

Raise your hand if you have never asked that question?

How many times are we supposed to forgive someone? And if we cannot remember asking that ourselves, how many times have we been asked that question by others? There is no need to paint the entire scenario, but it usually ends with a tear-stained face, and a “but it’s not fair and ends with a grand show of storming away with a very loud and very hurt, “you always liked them better.”

It is not clear what spurred Peter’s question today but for fun we can speculate. Peter’s brother was Andrew, so let’s assume that Andrew did something … perhaps he hit Peter in the face with a fish. So, Peter wants to follow Jesus’s teachings and forgive him but only so much. So, he says, do I have to forgive Andrew 7 times?

In the ancient near eastern culture the word for seven was very similar to the word for complete. So, peter could have been saying, “do I have to forgive him complete times completely. Or He could have been saying “7”, as in one more than 6 and one less than 8.

Neither matters, Jesus just throws out a ridiculous amount. He says 77 time, in another version He says 7 times 70 times. Either way this is a lot more than 7.

From here Jesus goes into a long parable about a servant that owes his master some money. We have all heard this story and can relate because we would never do what the servant did. WE are good people and is someone came to us and asked for a little time to pay back a loan we would say, “Sure no problem”. And if the loan is small enough or the person a good enough friend, we might even say, “don’t worry about it. Your debt is forgiven.

That is just how nice we are. But what if the story isn’t about money at all? What f the debt owed was forgiveness for a wrong? What if it is something like a bump or a slight push. Sure, why not. What if it were a hurtful slur or a damage to your property? Well, maybe but someone is going to pay for that damage!

A number of years ago there was a sensational news story about a shooting in a smally Amish community schoolhouse. A gunman, Charles Carl Roberts took 10 girls hostage, ages 6 through 13, in the West Nickel Mines School and shot all 10 before shooting himself. Five of those young girls died that afternoon. In the hours after the shooting, members of the Amish community extended forgiveness to the Roberts family. The went so far as to establish a charitable fund for the family of the shooter and even invited the widow, Marie Roberts, to the funeral of one of the victims.

After that funeral, Mrs Roberts wrote an open letter to her Amish neighbors thanking them for their forgiveness, grace, and mercy. She wrote, “Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need. Gifts you’ve given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe. Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you.”

At the end of today’s gospel reading it says, “Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

That is what it feels like that Amish community did. They forgave with their heart. When it was difficult, when it was unwarranted, when it was unfair. They forgave with their whole heart.

“I say to you, not seven times, but 77 times. “

MT 18:21- 19:1

Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
That is why the Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who decided to settle accounts with his servants.
When he began the accounting,
a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount.
Since he had no way of paying it back,
his master ordered him to be sold,
along with his wife, his children, and all his property,
in payment of the debt.
At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’
Moved with compassion the master of that servant
let him go and forgave him the loan.
When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants
who owed him a much smaller amount.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding,
‘Pay back what you owe.’
Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him,
‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’
But he refused.
Instead, he had the fellow servant put in prison
until he paid back the debt.
Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened,
they were deeply disturbed,
and went to their master and reported the whole affair.
His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant!
I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to.
Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant,
as I had pity on you?’
Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers
until he should pay back the whole debt.
So will my heavenly Father do to you,
unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.”

When Jesus finished these words, he left Galilee
and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan.

August 11, 2022

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