Then 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 times seven times.’ (Matthew 18: 21-22)
Jesus wasn’t a math major. I’m not saying that Jesus couldn’t count, nor would I want to limit Jesus’ ability to higher mathematics. But again, Jesus wasn’t a math major.
In Jesus’ day, the rabbis told the people to forgive up to three times. When Peter asks Jesus if they should forgive another person in the church seven times, he believed he was being more than fair. He may even have hoped that Jesus would commend the generosity of his heart. But then Jesus says, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven.”
Now, here’s where we can discern that Jesus wasn’t a math major. When Jesus says 70×7, He’s not saying we must forgive someone else 490 times. Mathematically, 70 x 7 is 490, but not spiritually. Spiritually, 70 x 7 is a number without end.
This 70 x 7 not equaling 490 is good news in our relationship with Jesus. If Jesus limited His forgiveness to only 490 times, our relationship with Him wouldn’t last very long; in fact, it would have ended long ago.
This 70 x 7 not equaling 490 is also really important news in our relationships with each other. When we start counting how many times we’re going to forgive someone—especially in our most important relationships—our hearts shrink, grace evaporates, and love shrivels. For love to continue, forgiveness must be constant, without calculation.
It’s a good thing that Jesus wasn’t a math major. It’s a very good thing that He majored in grace and mercy.
Jesus encourages His disciples to major in the same. Just as we pray that the number of times He forgives us will always exceed the number of times we falter, so He prays we will follow His example with others.
- Is there someone you need to forgive? Forgiving them doesn’t excuse whatever they did to you, nor does it mean you have to be in relationship with them. Jesus asks you to forgive them for the sake of your own heart. So, again, who might you need to forgive?
- Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. Do you need to forgive yourself for some mistake, frailty, or failure? Is it time to stop shaming and berating yourself for being a flawed human being?
- When we hold grudges, our hearts shrink. When we forgive, our hearts expand. Is your own heart right now generally shrinking or expanding? If the former, what might you need to do to reverse this trajectory?