September 24, 2020

How Many Times?!

Written by Tripp Prince

Thoughts from daily Bible reading for today – September 24, 2020

Then Peter came and said to him, “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. Matthew 18:21-22 (NRSV)

I love how St. Peter is infinitely relatable, across countless cultures and contexts. It seems that Peter is always willing to say the thing that everyone else is thinking, and today’s reading from Matthew 18 is no exception! We enter into a difficult teaching from Jesus on the nature of true forgiveness, and while Jesus always pushes them to examine the motives of their hearts and pursue love at all costs, Peter simply wants a rule, a new law to remove any doubt about whether he was in the right or wrong. He’s saying, in essence, “Yes Jesus, I know I must forgive my brother, but there’s a limit, right? Surely I can’t just keep forgiving over, and over, and over again?!” In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus had in mind.

Interestingly, Rabbis in Jesus’ day commonly taught that three was the maximum number of times one must forgive someone for the same offense. Offend once, twice, or three times, and you are forgiven. But a fourth time? All bets are off! Mindful of this, it could be argued that Peter is trying to show Jesus just how lavish and excessive his understanding of forgiveness is- not three times, Jesus, not six times, but seven times! One can almost imagine Peter pausing for dramatic effect to let the weight of his words sink in. “Yes, you heard right. Seven times!”

To put a limit on our capacity for forgiveness is to misunderstand the very nature of the good news of freedom in Christ. Forgiveness is not a legal requirement but is a way of life that cannot be quantified or limited. Why? Because you and I never run out of moments for which we must ask forgiveness of God and others. Can you imagine if your spouse, or children, or close friends only had to forgive you seven times? Thank God that Jesus shows us a way of extravagant mercy and grace!

We will always have an incredible capacity to wound others and fail to live for their good and the glory of God. And while by the work of the Spirit that tendency may diminish as we grow older and wiser in our life with God, the temptation is always there. And so, we are always in need of the mercy and forgiveness of God and of his people. For this reason, Jesus looks on us with compassion and says “stop trying to count!” Give yourself infinitely and beyond measure, seventy times seven, to a life of forgiveness and love.


Father, may we never grow tired of offering forgiveness to others, just as you never exhaust your compassionate and tender care towards us. Amen.


Where have you put a limit on your capacity for healing, love, and merciful forgiveness?

Related Reading

Matthew 6:14; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13

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