Has anyone ever really wounded you? How do you feel about that person? How long has it been? If you saw that person walking down the street tomorrow what feelings would arise within you? Would your heart begin to race? Would you panic? Turn around and walk the other way? Hide? Be seized with anger, fear, bitterness?
If you have ever been really hurt, wounded, betrayed, had your life put in jeopardy, been physically or emotionally abused, or had your heart broken maliciously, you have had to deal with the issue of forgiveness and will be dealing with it for the rest of your life.
Today’s difficult teaching is…
“Then Peter came up and said to Him, ‘Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I still forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times.’”
This is from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 18, verses 21-22.
What did Jesus mean when he said forgive someone seventy-seven times? Scholars have been debating it for two thousand years. Most people see it as an invitation to forgive a person endlessly if they keep offending us. That may certainly be the case. I am not a biblical scholar.
But my own experience leads me to understand this passage differently. My God-given reason and my limited understanding of God’s dream for us suggests that I shouldn’t put myself in a position where the same person could offend, hurt, or abuse me in any way, seventy-seven times.
My own experience of being hurt by others does however suggest another possibility. When I have been hurt, really hurt, and I have been, I find it isn’t enough to forgive that person once. I will forgive that person, or at least I will believe I have forgiven that person, but then something happens. It may be three days later, and it may be three years later. Something will remind me of that person and what he or she did to me, and my heart will be seized with bitterness, resentment, even rage. And in that moment, I realize that I have not fully forgiven that person, and that I need to forgive that person again.
Sometimes we need to forgive the same person seventy-seven times for hurting us once. We need to forgive them seventy-seven times, not for wounding us over and over again, but because the one time they wounded us was so deep that it keeps getting infected and each time it does we need to forgive one more time.
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