70×7 = Infinity
In Scripture, numbers usually point beyond a numerical value to a symbolic significance. The number seven is one of the most significant in the Bible. Scholars say it denotes completeness or wholeness and 70×7 = Infinity. In today’s gospel reading Jesus is telling us that forgiveness is not a quantifiable event. It is a quality; a way of being, a way of living, a way of loving, a way of relating, a way of thinking and seeing. It is nothing less than the way of Christ. If we are to follow Christ then it must become our way as well. It is infinite compassion. There are no limits to his forgiveness.
C.S. Lewis writes, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until there is something to forgive”. When we look at our lives we will find broken promises, hurt feelings, betrayals, harsh words, physical and emotional wounds. Beneath the pain, the wounds, the losses, and the memories lies the question of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not originate in us. It begins with God. We do not choose to forgive. We only choose to share the forgiveness we have already received. The merciless servant was tortured when he refused to forgive his fellow servant. An unforgiving spirit creates its own suffering. It builds up walls of bitterness and resentment and there is no escape until we come to forgive.
Jack Kornfield reminds us that “if your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.” Forgiving others begins by “having compassion for all those unwanted parts of ourselves.” ( Pema Chodron) Forgiveness also extends to reality itself: to forgive it for being so broken, a mixture of good and bad. We can only surrender to the mystery of that paradox by trustfully allowing God to lovingly hold together the opposites within us, within our neighbour and even our enemy, and within reality itself.
After being imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years for his protest of apartheid, Nelson Mandela said “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Forgiveness creates space for new life.
Adapted from various sources inc Michael Marsh, Richard Rohr
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35
Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, is lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”