"...Doubtless some of you heard today’s lesson and said to yourself: “I thought Jesus said Peter was to forgive
‘seventy times seven.’ What’s this ‘seventy-seven times’ business?”
The actual number doesn’t matter to Jesus. For any number he said was more than the norm. Judaism of the first
century taught that one should forgive another person one, two or three times, but probably not four times. In short,
there was a reasonable limit to the requirement for forgiveness. When asked the question by Peter of how many
times he should forgive someone in the church (which indicates even back then there were folks in the church who
needed forgiving by their fellow church-members), Jesus responds with an answer denoting the unlimited and almost
absurd quantity of forgiveness. It matters not whether he said 77 or 70 times 7 equals 490 times. The new covenant
in Jesus says there is no longer any limit. The answer is: Forgiveness is given if asked for, no matter how often one
is sinned against and no matter how large the debt.
A Bible story of a king who forgave the great debt of his official—only to find that official throttles someone else over a
smaller debt—points out the absurdity of numbers when calculating forgiveness. The smaller debt in the story, one
hundred denarii, was the equivalent of wages for a third of a year. A sizeable debt, but one capable of being repaid.
But the official who was unwilling to forgive his worker the small debt himself owed the king ten thousand talents! By
one scholar’s calculation, it would take 164,000 years to repay the debt! (Matthew 18:21-35)
Yet are not we, too, sometimes petty, like the official in the parable? If we refuse to forgive others, even their smallest
transgressions, will we be any better than the unrepentant? On the last day, will we be surprised if the Lord treats us
as we treated others? The moral of the story is clear. As the Lord always forgives us from the inner depths of his
heart, we, too, must forgive others. Forgiveness has nothing to do with the pursuit of justice, and everything to do
with the character of God.
Now I’m aware forgiveness is sometimes tough to either give or accept, to forgive and forget. Previously, in another
sermon on forgiveness, we explored that instead of forgetting, we can remember the wrong, focus upon it, so that it
might be forgiven, so that the wrong no longer exercises power over our future. Remembering that can be healing.
But does not forgiveness seem like the toughest act we as Christians are called upon to do? We prayed already this
morning “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” but most of the time we just let the conflict fester. We
would rather be estranged from a brother or sister, mother or father, son or daughter; we would rather be disobedient
to the prayer we prayed, than to venture forgiveness. To take the first step is tough.
Who is it you cannot forgive? Who is it that hurt you so bad? They could easily sit week after week on the pew in
front of you. They may be dead but the power of that hurt still lingers.
When Peter asked: Should I forgive seven times, Jesus shook his head. Seventy times seven.
But Jesus, you don’t understand. She broke my heart. She just dragged every feeling I have through the gravel pile.
She betrayed me. Seventy times seven. But he tore up my life. He lied through his teeth and I lost this job and life
has never been quite right since. Seventy times seven. But you don’t understand how it is. He abused me for years
on end. I still carry the scars. I can’t let it go. Seventy times seven. You don’t know how they hurt my dad. Good
man. Decent human being. Best pastor I ever met. And they just broke his heart. I can’t go back to church.
Seventy times seven.
Our God is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Psalm 103:8), washing us
from our iniquity, and cleansing us from our sin (Psalm 51:1-2). But God is betting that we have been transformed by
his forgiveness into the kind of people who can do the hard work of forgiving others. God knows that his mercy can
have a surprising and wonderful effect—it can create a community of merciful people.
The story goes that when the Civil War ended a group gathered outside the White House and President Lincoln came
out to say a few words to the crowd. It was a great time of celebration. A band was there. The President talked
briefly about the horrors of war and then he joked a little because he had a keen sense of humor. The people were
delighted and exuberant that they had won the war that had been going on for four years. Lincoln talked about how
important it was to get back together and heal the nation’s wounds and let brothers and sisters join each other once
again. Then he said, “In a few moments, I want the band to play and I am going to tell them what I want them to play.”
The crowd thought he would get them to play The Battle Hymn of the Republic, for that had become their theme
song. But President Lincoln said, “I wonder if we, in winning the war, have the right now to play the music again . . . if
maybe that’s not appropriate.” That should have been a clue to what he was going to say. Because he turned to the
band and said, “Now this is what I want you to play—I want you to play Dixie.” The band almost dropped their
instruments. For a minute they just stood there with the crowd open mouthed. They looked at one another. They
didn’t have the music to Dixie. They hadn’t played Dixie for quite a while. Then after a long pause the band finally got
together and played it. There was not a dry eye in the crowd!
When we forgive, we play music we never thought we could play and sing songs we thought we could never sing.
We utter words of reconciliation we thought we had neither the power or compassion to pass from our lips. This really
is one of the great distinguishing marks of the church. Seventy times seven. Forgiving seventy times seven. Quite
a song! And what a rare and wonderful church it makes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prBXNwxjU4I
"Forgiveness is tough, but someone’s gotta do it!"
Rev. Charles E. Ensley, Jr.
|Lesson: Love is Instant Forgiveness
Jesus has all his followers pray the conditions of forgiveness in his teaching of the Our Father prayer:
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Let us think about that for a moment and repeat it; we are asking God, Our Father, to forgive us as we forgive
others. If we are unforgiving, we are asking God to be unforgiving to us as well.
Metaphysically, as we leave the Age of Pisces and enter the Age of Aquarius, forgiveness may become a notion of
the past just as "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" is a Age of Aries notion and replaced by the forgiveness
of Jesus' Piscean Age. When Peter asked how many times he must forgive, Jesus told him,
"I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven." (NAS)
What is ahead of us in the Age of Aquarius concerning forgiveness? One thought is this;
Forgiveness is blessed, but the heart with no blame is holy.
We will adopt blamelessness as our evolutionary notion in the Aquarian Age
|Sabbath Devotionals 2
Monday June 18, 2018 First published February 13, 2010
|"May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart
be acceptable to You, Oh Lord, My Rock and Redeemer."
"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive
you: But if you forgive not men their trespasses,
neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
(Matthew 6:14-15 KJV)