It seems to me that there is nothing quite so pure, quite so noble, quite so priestly as the act of forgiving and forgetting. My suspicion is also that most of us would say nothing is more difficult and requires such a risk than forgiving and risking being hurt again.
Lee Strobbel in his book, Thirteen Discoveries That Can Revolutionize Your Life: God’s Outrgeous Claims, reminds us about Associted Press repoter Terry Anderson who was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years. He was chained to a wall in a filthy, spider-infested cell. He suffered through sickness. He endured mental torture. He longed for his family. He was grounded down by a dull ache of boredom. Through it all he was given only one book, the Bible, and one phrase kept coming to mind "Love your enemies and pray for those who persscute you." Finally Anderson was released on December 4, 1991. People quickly clustered about him and one question qucikly came up - can you forgive your captors? Anderson paused. Before he could come to a response, the Lord’s Prayer ran through his mind: "Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us". This is the victim talking and no matter how hard it was he knew he had to forgive not necessarily forget, but forgive his captors.
I can hear you saying, "You don’t know what he did to me. He hurt me; he violated my rights." I know how natural it is to feel anger and hatred towards our tormentors, but we need to learn is to forgive.
Forgiveness seems to be a isolated occurance in our society, marriages, family, churches, and the local community. I say this for we often hear a year ago, three weeks ago, or yesterday I forgave someone. It appears to only come out of a crisis situation or in the dramatic events in our lives. It seems odd that we have to think back in order to attempt to remember the last time we forgave someone. Why does happen so infrequently? If we really want to enjoy life it needs to be a habit or a way of life. As I began to think about the topic of forgiveness I came across a few questions which I think we need to deal with this morning.
V21 "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?’"
Forgive how many times? It is a fair question to ask I think. I’m sure we’ve asked that question once or twice ourselves. We can often forgive a person once, maybe twice, but come the third time we really have to think about it, right?
As the verse unfolds Peters answers his own question. Forgive up to 7X’s. It appears as though Peter wants a pat on his back, watch for a smiling face, or wants to hear good job. You see Peters’ 7xs comes from the Jewish law on how many times we are called to forgive another person. It is as if Peter is asking do I go the whole 9 yards Lord. The point is not the number of times you forgive, but make it a lifestlye. Jesus uses the error or Peter to create a teachable moment.
v22 "Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
Jesus responds. If you try to multiple and figure out how many times it is mathmatically you missed the point. The language is that of keep on doing it.
Lewis Smedes writes in, The Art of Forgiving, - He was telling us not to make forgiving a matter of numbers. He was talking about healing our memories of a wound that someone’s wrong etched in our cemented past. Once, we have stopped, we can forgive however many times it may take us to finish our healing.
But back to Peter’s question. It was simply the wrong question, and to give a straight answer to it would have been to give it a standing it did not deserve. The question is never how many times we are supposed to forgive, but how many times we need to forgive. Forgiving is a gift, not a duty. It is meant to heal, not to obligate. So the only good answer to Peter’s question is: Use the gift as often as it takes to set you free from a miserable past you cannot shake.
Why? Its a parable in v23 - "The kingdom of heaven is like..." This is how the Christian life ought to be - a forgiving community, a forgiving people. Through that showing what God is like. This is how the kingdom is like, and how we ought to live in the kingdom.