7 or 77?

Peter’s Inspired Guess on Forgiveness

Peter has a high profile in Matthew’s gospel. It is only there that Jesus addresses him as the rock on which he will build his church. It is only in Matthew that we find Peter asking the question, “Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?” In the Scriptures, seven is a symbol of fullness and completion. While to forgive someone seven times would seem about as far as one could possibly go, still Jesus said that we should forgive seventy-seven times. In other words, there is to be no limit to our willingness to forgive.

Of course, Jesus was aware that the human tendency was to put strict limits on forgiveness, as is clear in the parable he told to Peter and the others. In that story, even the fortunate person who had been generously forgiven a huge debt could not find it in his heart to forgive another to a much lesser extent. Foremost in Jesus’ mind is how forgiving God was. In today’s gospel he calls on Peter and on all of us to be God-like in our readiness to forgive. This re-echoes what he said earlier in Matthew’s account, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Peter thought he was already being very spiritual. Seven times of forgiving a brother is already many more times than their culture. Rabbis taught that 2-3 times forgiveness was enough. God’s standard is far above the world’s standard. God’s standard is even far above the standard of the religious. Jesus said that one should forgive seventy-seven times.

Forgive Others

If we compare ourselves to others, we may think that we are pretty good and quite spiritual. This is likely what Peter thought. However, we should not compare ourselves to people or to worldly standards. Instead, we should strive to reach God’s standard. The main point of the parable is very clear. God wants us to forgive others. And if we harbor unforgiveness and hatred in our hearts toward others, then it demonstrates we have not truly repented of our sins and therefore God will not forgive us either.

The king represents God. We see in this parable that He is both just and merciful. He is willing to forgive sins and show mercy. At the same time, He wants us to show true repentance. And He will punish unrepentant sin. God is the final judge. He is the decision maker. He sits on His throne. Our responsibility is first and foremost to please God above everything else.

God wants us to forgive others like He forgives us. That is this parable in a nutshell. We don’t need to make it overly complicated. Then the questions are “are you obeying this?” Are you forgiving others? How can we improve in forgiveness? When we say “I forgive you” do we really forgive the person, or do we harbor grudges? Do we need to wait until they ask us to forgive them? These are some of the questions we need to meditate on. We need to pray that God will help us to become truly forgiving to our brothers and sisters and family around us.

[Readings: Dn 3:25, 34-43; Mt 18:21-35]

Fr. Nnaemeka Paschal Ajuka

Fr. Nnaemeka Paschal Ajuka, PhD., BCC., ACPE Certified Educator Candidate, is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Umuahia, Nigeria, and a Board-Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC). He is a retreat preacher who loves his faith. As a sociologist, he cherishes and operates from the vertical and horizontal relationships with God and neighbor. He takes Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace “Lord make me an Instrument of Peace,” as his ministry mission statement. He is a care provider who meets human needs without discrimination. He has been actively involved in the pastoral ministry in parishes in Nigeria and in the US. Previously, he was an adjunct lecturer at Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary Umuahia and the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria. Currently, he is a Certified Educator Candidate with the Department of Chaplaincy Services and Education, University of California Health, Davis, Sacramento.

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