Matthew 18:21-22 Then Peter came up and said to him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
There are some words we use all the time, we assume that everyone must know what they mean, but perhaps that is not so. Sometime ago I spoke about repentance, as there are some who believe that all it is, is saying sorry, without much thought as to what you are sorry for – it is not hard to be sorry you got caught, but that is not repentance – rather it involves 2 parts, contrition – that is you are sorry that you hurt God and your fellow man - - as well as a sincere desire to change your ways. So, it isn’t really repentance if you aren’t sorry for the hurt you caused, or if you do not plan to change your ways.
In many ways that is fairly straight forward, and the best part is it that it is not up to you to do this on your won, but God helps us, first in that he shows us our sins, and he shows us the consequences we deserve – but also in that it is only by the grace of God that we are able to change our ways. Forgiveness is often somewhat more difficult.
In the first place, what does it mean? Perhaps our favorite verse provides the best picture.
1John 1:7 the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If sin is like dirt, once it has been washed away it is gone forever, it doesn’t keep coming back, it is not even there to be remembered. Why is it important? Because in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray forgive us our tresspasses as we forgive those who tresspass against us – in other words we ask God to forgive us in the same whay that we forgive our neighbor – and if we do not forgive our neighbor – if we will not forget the wrong – then we are asking God to do exactly the same thing to us. We can speak of forgiveness in terms of being reconciled, that is, to reestablish proper friendly interpersonal relations after these have been disrupted or broken. Somethimes we speak of pardon, that is, to remove the guilt resulting from wrongdoing.
Psalm 130:3-4 If thou, O LORD, shouldst mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.
Psalm 103:12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
So why forgive?
That’s what the parable is about – suppose you owed a debt it would take a 1000 lifetimes to pay, and someone owed you a debt which would take 3 months to pay. Would you give up your forgiveness, which you could never hope to repay, in order to hold on to the person with the small debt?