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?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Peter wanted to know how often a person was supposed to forgive a repeat offender. Jesus answers with the figure 77, which in other versions of the New Testament is listed as 70 x 7 or 490. I think the point is don’t keep count. The wild number that Jesus responded with was his way of saying that we muddle the healing process if we take time to calculate the number of times we are legally bound to do it. Let me put this in perspective. How many times do you think God has forgiven you this past month? Year? How many times do you think God has forgiven you, and is willing to forgive you, in your lifetime? The number for me is too high to count, which reminds me that I should not be stingy with my willingness to forgive others.
In the postscript to his book, The Art of Forgiving, Lewis Smedes offers the following reminders:
“The first person to benefit from forgiving is the one who does it.
Waiting for someone to repent before we forgive is to surrender our future to the person who wronged us.
When we forgive, we set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner we set free is us.
Forgiving is not a way to avoid pain, but to heal pain.
Forgiving is a journey: the deeper the wound, the longer the journey.
When we forgive, we take God’s hand and walk together into a hope filled future.”
We, in the church, have not spent enough time and energy preaching, teaching, and modeling forgiveness. Or at least we can acknowledge there is more work to be done. The United Methodist Church has a liturgy called an Order of Farewell to a Pastor and it is sometimes used when a pastor is leaving. It begins with the pastor saying: “I thank you, the members and friends of First United Methodist Church Mansfield for the love and support you have shown me while I have ministered among you. I am grateful for the ways my leadership has been accepted. I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I have made. As I leave, I carry with me all that I have learned here.”
Please accept my apology for things I have said, and left unsaid; for things I have done and left undone. Know how grateful I have been for our years together and all the ways you have blessed me.
Take a few moments and think about an area in your life where you have hurt or been hurt. Acknowledge the pain is there and then decide if you want to hold onto it or let it go. Write a note or text, make a call, go see the one you need to offer forgiveness to and/or the ones who need to hear you say you are sorry.
I don’t remember who said it first, but I appreciate the advice: Instead of trying to fix others and help ourselves, we need to concentrate on helping others and fixing ourselves. One of the most important things we can do to fix ourselves is to forgive ourselves!
I believe that we live in a time when people really want to see God and know God’s grace and forgiveness. So let’s get at it.
Help us forgive others.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.