Seventy-Seven Times

There he was, crouched in front of the fire, poking the logs with a stick to refresh the flame. Peter sat down on a large, flat stone next to him. "Jesus?"

"Yes?" He didn't look up.

"I have a question. How many times must I forgive my brother? Seven times?" Jesus gazed into the fire, seemingly captivated by the orange heat that wavered and crawled across the coals. Firelight and shadow played across the side of his face. Then...

"No, Peter, not seven times. Seventy-seven times."

"Whaaat! How am I supposed to keep track of that?"


Not seven times. Seventy-seven times.

Like three and forty, the number seven in the Bible has particular significance. It represents perfection, completion, or so I've heard it said through the years, often enough that I think it's true. So what does it mean to forgive seventy-seven times? What was Jesus telling Peter--and what is he telling us?

How about this: Forgive, and keep forgiving, until the job is done. Forgive without keeping score, unto perfect perfection. Whatever it takes. Do it.

What Forgiveness Is Not

Notice that Jesus is not saying, Trust. He is not advocating, contrary to all common sense, that you put your confidence in a person whose behavior is patently untrustworthy. You can forgive the mad dog that bit you, but you're a fool to step back into the kennel with it.

Jesus is also not saying, Forget. Forgiveness is not forgetfulness. Forgetfulness may follow forgiveness--or it may not. But forgiveness doesn't hinge on your ability to blot something out of your mind. After all, you can't forgive what you've forgotten.

Finally, Jesus is not saying, Deny the injury. Forgiveness is not denial. Don't tell yourself the wound is nothing. You can't forgive nothing; you can only forgive an actual wrong done to you. It matters. It is something, not nothing.

No, forgiveness is not blind trust, nor impossible forgetfulness, nor pretending the arrow in your back doesn't hurt. It is, rather, a seventy-seven-mile journey of desiring God's truth, grace, and freedom, not an eye for an eye, for the one who hurt us.

It starts, perhaps, with this: "If I could send them to hell, I would not."

It moves into this: "Father, grant them life!"

And it ripens, I would like to think, into peace, gladness, and wholeness of heart for ourselves.