Peter approached Jesus and asked him,
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times
but seventy-seven times.” (Mt 18:21-22)
Jesus was teaching His disciples about the importance of forgiving. You and I both know that forgiving someone is not always the easiest thing to do. Depending upon the person and the circumstances, it cannot only not be easy, it can be extremely difficult. Yet, the Lord was telling His followers that they must be a people who forgives.
In order to comprehend Peter’s question fully, it is important to understand the use of symbols in the time of the Lord. The people used symbolic language often. For example, the number “forty” did not necessarily mean “that which comes after 39 and before 41”. No. The number forty also meant “a long time”. Knowing that, we can then understand its usage better in the scriptures. For example, Jesus was fasting in the desert for forty days. Another way to look at that would be to read, “Jesus was fasting in the desert for a long time.”
Now, years are much longer than days, are they not. So, let’s look at another book of the Bible. This one in the Old Testament. The Israelites were in exile in the desert for forty years. Years, not days. If Jesus was fasting in the desert for a long time, the Israelites were in exile in the desert for a L-O-N-G time!
Other symbolic numbers were three, seven, ten, and twelve (among many others). Those numbers often meant “perfection”.
Now, let us look at the response that Peter gave to Jesus. In effect, he went to Jesus and said, “If my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? A perfect number of times?” He was expecting Jesus to say, “Of course not.”
Instead, Peter heard, “No. Not a perfect number of times. I say to you a perfect number of times (seven) multiplied by a perfect number of times (ten) plus a perfect number of times (seven)”. That, as well, is a set of three perfect numbers. And three was also perfect.
Jesus had Peter cold! In short, as He often said, “You must be perfect in your forgiveness.”
No one ever said that following Jesus would be easy. Jesus never even claimed that. He constantly pushed His followers to become more perfect day by day. He calls us to that same task. Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
FAITH ACTION: We may have forgiven someone once in our lives. We may have even forgiven that person a select number of times. However, most of us have certain people in our lives with whom we no longer interact because we refuse to forgive them for something. The task today? Forgive that person!