Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven– Matthew 18:21-22
If we are honest with ourselves, Peter’s question is one we all would have wanted to ask. Exactly how many times is it necessary to forgive the same person? To Peter, and to our natural reasoning, seven times seems fairly generous.
But Jesus counters with a grudge-shattering, jaw-dropping figure that is in itself clearly intended to end all our attempts to mark and number each other’s offenses. Turn the pencil around and erase all the wrongs you have carefully been taking note of. Complete and immediate forgiveness, Jesus says, is still in order.
Sometimes it is not so much the number of wounds as the magnitude of one great injury that makes it difficult to forgive. A spouse that was unfaithful, a rumor that was started, or a gaping need that went unnoticed. As C.S. Lewis observes, in such cases it is necessary to forgive, not just 490 times for 490 offenses, but 490 times for one great and terrible injustice — every time the sting of it is felt again in your heart.
As he does in every place the issue arises, Jesus puts to death any hope of a righteous grudge. If, as Jesus reminds Peter in the parable immediately following this admonition, God has forgiven us so much, how can we refuse to forgive those who insult or injure us?