Seventy times Seven… (Matthew 17-19)
December 7, 2010
Tonight I’d like to write about the f word. Forgiveness. While there is a lot of other stuff going on in Matthew 17-19 my username is faithforgivenessfreedom, so you can probably guess its a biggy for me. Well, it’s a biggy for us Christian types in general, our souls kind of depend on it. Jesus makes this very clear in the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35). He tells us of a man who was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents (a talent as worth more than 15 year’s wages of a labourer) but would not forgive a debt of 100 denari (a denarius was one day’s wage). When his master hears of this he sends him to be tortured and Jesus tells us “So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” This speech to me is so radical and so scary. It probes my soul questioningly. Do I forgive like God forgives?
There’s a lot in these chapters about our treatment of others. Of children (18:1-5, 19:13-15), of fellow Christians (18:15-20), of the poor (19:21), of course of God. This parable itself asks us how we will regard the freedom given us through God’s forgiveness and sacrifice. Will we be like the servant, so untouched by this unparalleled generosity that it doesn’t touch our daily lives?
The story is told just after Peter’s question ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ and Jesus replies ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.’ or ‘seventy times seven’. That’s a lot of second chances. Do we follow that? If a friend kept hurting you, even if they were sorry every time, could you let them back into your life after they’d done seven times? Seventy seven time? Four hundred and ninety times? (that’s seventy-times-seven, in case you were wondering). I don’t know if I could, to be honest.
So why is this huge demand placed on us? We know that the relieving truth of Jesus is that we don’t need to perfect to be accepted by good, we don’t need to have got it all right. As he says in 19:26 “for God all things are possible.” But still there is this demand. This command. To forgive as you are forgiven. Or is it to for forgive because you are forgiven?
I suppose this is where the freedom part of faithforgivenessfreedom comes in. We are free from the bondages of our mistakes and so we are expected to free others. Holding on to the past in out hearts not only binds them but us too. We cannot be free without forgiveness. We cannot forgiveness without freedom. Another rich paradox of the Christian tradition.
For me, the journey of faith must keep revisiting forgiveness. Asking for more and asking help to give more. How many times will we ask? I expect a lot more than seventy times seven.