I know I’m supposed to like the whole Bible – especially anything Jesus said. But there are a few parts that get under my skin. One in particular is this passage from Luke 17:3-4: “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
Most of us are okay with the “rebuke him” part. Setting people straight can be kind of cathartic if you’re into that sort of thing. But then there’s the other part – the part where we’re supposed to forgive an offender seven times, even if he does the same thing again.
Apparently, that got under Peter’s skin as well. It must be what he was referring to when he tried to clarify and asked, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (like he was just making sure Jesus wasn’t mixed up when He said it the first time).
Jesus comes back with this: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21-22) (for those of you who aren’t good at multiplication, that’s 490 times). Jesus appears to be saying, “I don’t care how many times your brother sins against you – as soon as someone offends you, be ready to forgive.”
I don’t think Jesus is telling us we have to stay close to everyone who’s abusive, but we’re apparently obligated to be ready to forgive in ways that will feel excessive to us. And although that can seem like too much to ask, it’s actually pretty encouraging when you think about it.
If you’re like me, you commit the same sins again and again, and then you drag yourself back to Jesus in shame and ask for forgiveness. And every single time He says yes, yes, yes to the request for absolution. Why? Is He pretending to be patient? Is He ignoring our cycles of brokenness? Is this just some weird mea culpa dance we’re doing with a distant deity? No. Jesus forgives us because – well, He already has.
Pastor Bill Gillham puts it very succinctly. He asks, “How many sins had you committed when Jesus died? None. So how many of your sins did He forgive on the cross? All of them – the ones in the past, present, and future.”
When Jesus asks us to forgive to such a scandalous degree, He’s only asking us to recognize what He has already done. Let’s celebrate His sacrifice today by forgiving someone who, like us, only deserves to be pardoned because of what Jesus has already done.