Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.
– Matthew 18:21-22
Peter poses a question regarding his brother. Is this literally his brother Andrew or another brother that the Bible does not talk about or is this referring to any fellow human?
Whenever I have gotten angry and wanted vengeance, retribution, whatever, a small voice asks, “Okay, so what should I do?” My reply is, “If they just came to know You, Lord, all the prickliness in the relationship will go away.”
We just experienced one of the ugliest battles on television last week that we have seen in a long time. The younger people will say it is the ugliest, but I have seen Watergate and Iran-Contra hearings shown and then analyzed until everyone was sick of it. I am not saying this Supreme Court Justice confirmation was the worst. It just shows an ugliness on all sides that exemplifies a departure from God, or for those denying God, any civility. We had people who were probably guilty of much worse accusing and condemning someone of something he had or had not done many, many years ago. Maybe in understanding his failings, he might be a better justice. I don’t know. What happened was a circus of agenda-preaching. No view of personal character, no learning from past mistakes, and most importantly – no forgiveness.
In the message from Jesus above, which precedes the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus does not qualify His command to continue forgiving one’s brother, or anyone who has done you wrong. Some people think that they can exclude forgiving people who continue to do the same thing to you with no sign of repentance or no sign of stopping the vile behavior. Jesus does not qualify His command in such a way.
Some people think that if the other person does not forgive you, you don’t have to forgive them. Jesus does not qualify His command in such a way.
So, when someone never forgives you and they continue to abuse you themselves with no sign of ever stopping, what is the next step? Jesus says nothing preventing you from moving out of town. Escaping the problem might simply lead to the next problem. If Peter was referring to his actual brother, getting away from his brother might be difficult. Even if you move away, he is still your brother. It might stop the abuse, but then what?
This same argument might also work for your employment. I don’t know how many bosses that I have prayed for. Okay, all of them. I don’t know how many times that I have polished the resume, just to stay in the same job, working for the same person, who was doing me wrong – or so I thought.
And that brings up an interesting point. Have you ever found yourself apologizing for what someone else imagined that you said or did? Maybe that person does not believe in forgiveness. Now you are asking for forgiveness for something you did not do and forgiveness from a person that knows nothing other than harboring ill-will toward you. And what if 90% of their ill-will is what they imagined you meant when you said or did something.
And why do some people twist what you say or write into something bad? You say, “I love you.” And they reply, “Why did you just say that you hate me?” Where does this twist come from? How do you react to it? What if you cannot escape the person doing it?
I have learned that with some people, and I had a few bosses like this, once they have decided to not like you, every endearing quality that you have becomes a negative. Even your ever-present smile is irritating to them. But if they decide to like you, every negative quality becomes a unique quirk that they like even more.
And these people come by it naturally. They look at the very unforgiving world around them. As someone said a few years back, “The new Golden Rule is ‘Do unto others, before they have a chance to do unto you.’” If that is the new paradigm of evil in this world, most of our ‘brothers’ have already learned it and used it on us.
Some have argued that we, in the USA, have no idea what religious persecution is. We need to experience a stand for our faith becoming a life and death struggle, as it is in many countries in the world. But I don’t know what is worse.
I have read that people are more anxious today than at any time in history. There are more people on mood-altering drugs and the numbers are growing. Attacks are from every side. With some people you cannot ask a simple question without accusations in return. Has the entire world gone insane? In many ways, I would welcome the blade that would kill over the continued verbal attacks.
When does it stop?
I want to show God’s love. But I am attacked. Not with a blade or a gun, but with words and puffed out chests and with anger.
How many times do I forgive? As many as it takes, whether they accept it or not.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.