Seventy Times Seven
There's a story told in Spain of a father and his teenage son. Their relationship had been pretty rocky, and then one day the son ran away from home. The father, too, went on a journey – to look for his rebellious son. He searched long and was tired. Finally, out of desperation, the father put an ad in the Madrid newspaper. The ad read: "Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father." The next day at noon, in front of the newspaper office, over 100 “Pacos” showed up. They were all there looking for love and forgiveness from their fathers.
Forgiveness isn't just a gift we give, it’s a need we share. I’m sure we wouldn’t have to think very long to recall several times when we've said, “Please, forgive me.” We’re not perfect, and we need forgiveness. But what about our need to forgive? Is there really any difference? Jesus said, “No”. And He said it more than once.
The first time Jesus coupled “forgiving and forgiven” was when He instructed us on how to pray. It is within what is commonly known as The Lord's Prayer that we find the words,
... and forgive us our sins, just as we have forgiven those who have sinned against us.~ Matthew 6:12
Forgive us… as we have forgiven. Sounds pretty clear… being forgiven follows offering forgiveness. And where there is no forgiveness found, forgiveness will be lost. Now that's serious. And it gets worse.
In Matthew chapter 18, Jesus uses a very drastic parable to illustrate a very simple point. Forgive others or God will not forgive you. This lesson was the result of a direct question from Peter.
Then Peter came to him and asked, "Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?" ~ Matthew 18:21
Scholars tell us that Peter thought his offer was big-hearted, that Jesus would compliment his generosity to forgive someone so often, since the rabbis taught that two or three times to forgive was quite acceptable. Jesus’ answer caught everyone by surprise…
"No!" Jesus replied, "seventy times seven!" ~ Matthew 18:22
Jesus, in effect, removed the ceiling on forgiveness. There is no limit on forgiveness because there is no limit on grace. If we expect to receive both, we need to be willing to give each.
Forgive and forget? Better yet, how about, “Forgive and don't remember anymore.” The story goes that Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, was reminded one day of a hateful act that someone had done to her years before. But she acted like it was news to her. "Don't you remember?" her friend asked. "No," came Clara's reply. "I distinctly remember forgetting it."
Just like Pablo’s father, Almighty God has gone to great lengths to pursue us…to offer His forgiveness and forget our past. As we receive this grace, let’s pass the freedom it brings onto those around us.
If need be, over and over again.
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