Four Hundred and Ninety Reasons To Forgive

While it seems to go without saying that forgiveness should be a huge part of what it means to be a Christian, most of us struggle to forgive those who have wounded us. And sometimes, even when we do forgive, we find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to offer forgiveness to the same person or persons more than once.  

When it comes to forgiveness, it's hard to know exactly how many times you should offer it to someone--especially when they keep hurting you.  There's a moment in the Gospel of Matthew when the Apostle Peter finally decides to ask Jesus just how many times he should forgive someone.  

21 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?”22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Some ancient rabbis in the first century taught that forgiving someone more than three times was useless.  In other words, if someone is so untrustworthy that they break faith with you more than three times, it's not worth your time or energy to keep forgiving them.

Peter thought he was being a big shot by upping the ante to seven times, but then Jesus blows his mind by saying, "Seven?  Not even close.  Try four hundred and ninety times."  Does this mean that Jesus was putting limits on forgiveness, too?  Not at all.  He was simply using an exaggeration to demonstrate the lengths we should go to forgiven one another. 

In his excellent book Rumors of Another World, Philip Yancey tells the story of a hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that sought to bring unity to a country torn apart by racism, bigotry and oppression.  A South African policeman had to recount how he and other officers murdered an eighteen year-old boy and then burned his father alive in front of the boy's mother.   

The woman was asked what she wanted from the policeman.  She said she wanted the policeman to go to the place where her husband's body was burned and to gather up the dust to give him a decent burial.  Then she added, "Twice a month, I would like for [the policeman] to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him."  

She went on to say that she wanted the policeman to know that he was forgiven by God and that she had forgiven him, too.  The man fainted in the witness stand, overwhelmed by the grace he received at the hands of a woman who could have demanded his imprisonment.  

Pastor and author Rob Bell once wrote: “Maybe forgiveness is ultimately about me and about you – it’s about us. Because when I forgive somebody and I set them free, it’s like I’m really setting myself free.”  

May you find new strength and courage today and every day to forgive those who have wounded you.  May you realize that by forgiving them, you are releasing yourself from the burden of those wounds, setting yourself free to be the person God dreams for you to be. 

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always.  Amen. 


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