Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’”
“Too much of a good thing.” The application of those words is almost limitless. Food, money, technology, information, exercise, work, free time, vitamins, medicine, tender loving care, even oxygen–they are all good things, every one of them. But there comes a point where enough is enough. Too much starts to cause problems. Sometimes people suffer from too much of a good thing.
In these words, Jesus impresses on us a major exception. He had been teaching his disciples the principles for addressing a Christian brother or sister about his or her sin. We sometimes refer to them as “the steps of Christian discipline.” The goal is always to offer forgiveness and reconcile relationships. In some sad cases it ends with excommunication instead. It is an inescapable part of church life, life together in the family of God, if we faithfully love and care for each other and follow our Lord.
That naturally led Peter to wonder: “Forgiveness is good, yes. But there must be some kind of limit. How often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Is six times enough? Seven? If I keep forgiving, might I be encouraging them to hurt me? Might I be giving away too much of a good thing?”
Jesus answers Peter’s question with a number that puts to bed any thoughts of limits on forgiveness: “Seventy-seven times.” It may also be translated “Seventy times seven times.” Either way, Jesus is telling him, “Don’t worry about stopping, Peter. You just go on forgiving. You can never have too much forgiveness.”
We live in a world that is less and less enthusiastic about forgiveness. People say something unacceptable on social media, and a mob descends on them to shame them for their mistake and ban them from the platform for life. Maybe they go so far as to get the offenders fired from their jobs and driven from their homes. No apology, no act of penance, no attempt to make amends is enough. Such people must not be allowed to participate in public life ever again.
That would never be Jesus’ approach. None of us has ever offended each other a tiny fraction of the times, or with nearly the seriousness of the ways, we have offended him. That hasn’t stopped him from forgiving us for a lifetime of sins. More than personally pardoning us, he paid the price for our offenses with his blood. So the forgiveness from him to us keeps flowing in a never ending stream regardless of the size or number of our crimes.
By faith we follow Jesus. The grace of forgiveness has moved us to do so. Following him implies that we will forgive as he forgives as well. Don’t put a number on grace to your neighbor. Just keep forgiving.