“If someone offends me, how often should I forgive them?” Peter asked Jesus. As if it were a rhetorical question, he answered for himself, “seven times.” That must have seemed like a rather generous offer to him.
Jesus answers with a surprise, “No, but seventy times seven.” He didn’t mean by that four hundred ninety times. Using a large number was to say, “as many times as it takes.”
Forgiveness is spiritual work. Certainly to forgive someone does not necessarily mean that we must subject ourselves to repeated mistreatment.
A villager said to his priest: “My neighbour slapped me. Should I forgive him?”
“Yes,” answered the priest.
“How many times should I forgive my neighbour?” the villager asked.
“How many times did he slap you?” asked the priest.
”Once,” came the answer.
“Then forgive him once,” said the priest.
“But what if he slaps me fifty times?” the villager asked.
“Then you should forgive him forty-nine time,” came the answer.
“Why only forty-nine times, if I were struck fifty times?” the villager asked.
The priest: “Freely accept he fiftieth slap. You would deserve it for being such a fool to allow yourself to be slapped the first forty-nine times.”
Nonetheless, forgiving another is spiritual work. When you have the opportunity to forgive someone, you have the opportunity to deny yourself. You have the opportunity to let go, to let go of control, to let go of anger, to let go of revenge, to let go of pride, to let go of ego.
A former inmate of a Nazi concentration camp was visiting a friend who had shared the ordeal with him.
“Have you forgiven the Nazis?” he asked his friend.
“Well, I haven’t. I’m still consumed with hatred for them.”
“In that case,” said his friend gently, “they still have you in prison.”
Forgiveness may not always be easy – but it comes with the religion to which we subscribe, the God whom we worship, & his Son whom we follow.