Seven time eleven – SEVENTY SEVEN! As an eight year old elementary school student that was an astounding number.
I was also a younger brother with an older sister who reminded me constantly of her superior rank in the family. Merrie would order me about when Mom wasn’t home to intervene. And from my memory (selective I am sure) I recall various pranks or jokes played at my expense. The result was ongoing squabbles and arguments over which my mother was the primary arbiter and referee. Her promptings of “say you are sorry…” and “forgive and make up…” were frequent

So imagine my surprise then to hear this Gospel read in church… How often should I forgive my brother (or sister)? Now here was a question I could relate to.. SEVENTY SEVEN!

To put ourselves into the common mind of that time let us recall that the number 40 meant a great number… 40 days or 40 years meant a very long time. 77 was almost twice 40.

Imagine trying to keep track of how many times you have forgiven another … until you got to that magic number of 77. Long before you get to that number the pattern of forgiveness is established. How do I KNOW? BECAUSE I STARTED TO KEEP TRACK! It wasn’t very long until I realized it would take over a MONTH to get to that magic number if we averaged one or two squabbles a day.

I was hearing in Jesus words a target number – and the maximum – after which one was free to not forgive, to argue, to fight and to recriminate. What those apostles heard and what I eventually experienced was an unfathomable amount of forgiveness – almost without limit.

Why was Jesus teaching so focused on forgiveness? He understood that anger and resentment hurts the person who contains it. When I become upset and angry it is my blood pressure that rises. I feel the effects in my body, and it inflicts damage on me and my attitude. When I am angry I can act out in anger to hurt the other, but even that tends to inflict more damage on the one acting.

In Jesus teachings we are asked to forgive another, so that we are no longer bound by the negativity that anger produces in us. Forgiving another who has wronged us is a gift we give ourselves… not a gift to the other. It frees us to continue in our life not hindered by resentment, nor bound to hurts.

According to author Frederick Buechner harboring resentment is like my drinking poison and expecting that someone else will die.

Jesus also reminds us through this parable that we are forgiven and our wrongs put away like a debt paid.. and we in response are called to do the same so that our actions begin to lead us into a new way of thinking. We begin to put upon us the mind of Christ and start being a new creation as God would have us and through us helping to re-create the world.


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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