How Often Must I Forgive One Who Sins Against Me?

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Peter asks Jesus, “if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”  I suspect Peter thinks he is being magnanimous here, by suggesting is forgive his brother seven times.

But what is Jesus response? Not seven, but seventy-seven times.  In some translations, it is seventy times seven.  Either way, what is intended is not a specific number that limits how often we must forgive, but an effort to convey the sense that forgiveness must be a way of life for us, limitless in the love it offers, abounding in mercy.

And that is not easy!  Forgiveness is something even good people struggle with.  Even with very small matters, we find it so easy to justify our anger and lack of forgiveness.  Our minds run their way through all sorts of thoughts (some irrational) that both justify and fuel our resentments—

            She should have known better

            He shouldn’t have acted that way.

            I deserve better than I got.

            He needs to learn a lesson.

            It will do her good to stew a while.

We have all sorts of “should” and that affect our ability to forgive even slight hurts.  I think this may be why Rembert Weakland suggests that the most difficult aspect of being a Christian disciple is granting forgiveness.

But I think Richard Rohr is right in saying: “If you don’t get forgiveness, you are missing the whole mystery of God.” Rohr explains that by saying that “forgiveness is the great thawing of all logic, reason, and worthiness, and the primary way we move from the economy of merit to the economy of grace.  Forgiveness is a collapsing into the mystery of God as totally unearned love, unmerited grace.  It is the final surrender to the humility and power of a Divine Love and a Divine Lover.”  Without forgiveness, Rohr suggests, we are “still living in a world of meritocracy, of quid-pro-quo thinking, a world of performance and behavior at which none of us succeed, if we are honest.”

And so we pray for the grace to offer forgiveness of others, as God forgives us no matter how many times we miss the mark.