Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. — Mt 18:21-22
I was not the nicest older sister growing up. I knew exactly how to get under their skin-- and I did it, a lot. One of the worst threats I could make to my personal space-loving, germ-hating sister was "I'm going to sit on your bed!" It drove her absolutely nuts, and she'd do whatever I wanted. But I also did really mean, hurtful things-- like forward emails between her and her 6th grade boyfriend to older boys at school, who of course took the opportunity to mock them relentlessly. I don't know if I've ever been in bigger trouble than that day. I rarely remember being sent to my room, but I definitely remember it vividly in that instance. I sat on my bed truly so angry with myself, and worried that my sister would never forgive me. I did what any sensible 8th grade girl does-- cried, played mopey music, and made my sister a friendship bracelet. Each bead symbolized something I loved about her, and was sorry for doing. I didn't know that it would work, but I wanted to show that I did actually realize what a mean thing I had done.
Peter reminds me of a little kid in these verses. "Mommmmm, how many times do I have to forgive? Come on, isn't 7 enough?" Seven does seem like a lot, especially when it means seven times of doing the same thing over and over. I'll be honest-- if I had forwarded on any emails after that point, I'm not sure I would still be alive, much less six additional times of making the same mistake. But Jesus expands Peter's understanding once again, telling him, "nope, forgive seventy seven times"-- that is, continually, you never stop forgiving. Always forgive.
Forgiving someone over, and over, and over again is both something we do constantly, and something very far from our understanding. I forgive my friends when they're running late, or they cancel on me. But if it happened seven times, or habitually, I would . My family has forgiven me countless times for several of the same sins. And yet, after a while, my ask for forgiveness seems shallow when it isn't coupled with attempts to change. But when we put this in the context of God's forgiveness on us-- all I want and desperately need is that infinite forgiveness because I constantly sin and screw up on a daily basis. If God said "okay, seven times, then that's really my limit", I would be hopeless. My dad jokes that whenever people wanted to know what was really going on with my family, people from church would invite me over to play, because I was always willing to share the family "secrets". While not without exaggeration, gossip is still a sin I struggle with, 20 years later. If God didn't forgive me when I repent of it, I would be utterly wrecked.
So Jesus' message to Peter is two-fold: it is focused on how we treat others, and how God treats us (and in turn, what both of those things mean about and for us). First, we are called to love one another as Christ loves us. Peter up until this point in our journey with him has stuck his foot in his mouth and gotten in Jesus' way a lot, and He continues to forgive him. That's how we are called to love one another. Forgiveness is a profound act of love.
Secondly, if we are to forgive without end, then surely God does the same with us. God does not see our sin, but Jesus' sacrifice, and that is what makes Him able to forgive. But what we must recognize in our need for forgiveness is what is at the root. My struggle with gossip is both that I just love to talk, but also that I have this deeply-seeded desire to be liked by others, which shows that there are parts of me that don't trust God to be enough for me. In his exceeding graciousness and willingness to forgive, I must see that He is also my satisfaction, not the approval of others.
Forgiveness is easy to talk about, and hard to do. Grudges callous our hearts in ways that masquerade as forgiveness, but it's really just numbness or indifference. God does not forgive us out of indifference, but rather the opposite--out of deep, abiding, incredibly sacrificial love, that says, "I love you so deeply that I forgive completely, without end". And it's that forgiving love that should turn our hearts from our sin, and to God.
Dear God, I confess that my struggle with sins like gossip stem from places of unbelief: not believing that you are enough, that you love me completely, or that my full self-worth can be found in you. Lord, forgive me of my sin. In your gracious love, turn my heart from evil and onto Your face, that Your glory might what what I seek instead of the approval of man. In Jesus' name, Amen.
Dig Deeper: Whom or what do you struggle to forgive, especially multiple times? What do you constantly need forgiveness for from God? How doe these two things possibly relate, and what do they say about you?