Limitless Forgiveness

Note: A biblical reflection on the gospel passage appointed for this day in the Revised Common Lectionary.

Peter 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 seventy times seven” (Matthew 18.21-22)

Back in the day, rabbinical teaching called for forgiving another three times. And no more. In part, this was based on an interpretation of God’s treatment of Israel’s enemies:

Thus, says the Lord: For three transgressions of Damascus…of Gaza…of Tyre…of Edom…of the Ammonites, but for four, I will not revoke the punishment (Amos 1.3, 6, 9, 11, 13; my emphases)

Peter, with his characteristic enthusiasm, although, equally typical, his misunderstanding of Jesus, seeking to be especially charitable, doubles the standard and, for extra measure, adds one more.

However, Jesus ever drinks from (is!) the fountain of God’s inexhaustible grace. Always expanding, exploding the boundaries of human imagining, Jesus counters, multiplying Peter’s seven by seventy!

In my experience of trying to apply Jesus’ teaching in my life and relationships, his number 490 (which, in practical and, truly, spiritual terms, is illimitable) is beyond my counting. Even in my most zealous moments of arithmetical scrupulosity, I can’t keep track of how many times I have forgiven another who has wounded or wronged me.

And even if I could, Jesus intends that I forgive each offense 490 (illimitable!) times! I believe this precisely because forgiveness is difficult for me…

Among many examples (and, honesty compels my confession, I’ve repeated this one countless times!): I forgive someone for an offense and at a subsequent moment, the memory of it comes to mind and I discover that the resentment I thought I had forsworn was but an ember, now bursting into a new flame.

I know and Jesus knows that I’ll always be a practicing forgiver. (I know and he knows that I’ll never be a professional; as in having mastered the sublime act, the supreme art of forgiveness!)  Hence, the necessity, my necessity of limitless forgiveness.

© 2020 PRA

2 thoughts on “Limitless Forgiveness

  1. Dear Paul,
    Thank you so much for this reflection. I hope it’s ok if I borrow your term of “practicing forgiver”. I can easily SAY I forgive, and I need to forgive to forward in the relationship, BUT what happens a lot of time is that I see the person or think about the issue, and it boils right up again. What needs to happen to move from practicing forgiver to a more permanent version? I’m thankful for God’s limitless forgiveness… maybe I just answered my own question.. if the anger boils up again after I forgive, I just forgive again until the next time. I’m hoping it gets easier each time. Either way, I’ll give it a try.
    Much love


  2. Loretta, you got me! This – forgiving each time I discern that, upon the remembrance of the hurtful/harmful deed done unto me, the anger I thought was gone reappears – is precisely what I’ve figured out for myself. And after all these years of pondering forgiveness! For, formerly, I reckoned that if/when my anger was still there, then I must not have forgiven the offender in the first place. But, striving to learn not to be too hard on myself, I realized that, yes, I had forgiven the person, though still, upon reflection, I sensed anger or hurt (or both). Therefore, I needed (and need) to forgive again…

    Now, what I’ve also figured out is that I must strive to do my part not to allow that person to hurt or harm me in that same way again, which would place me in a position (potentially) to have some new incident or matter about which to forgive another 490 (indeed, illimitable!) times!

    And another step I need (am called) to take is to apply this methodology of limitless forgiveness to myself. For many are the things I’ve said and done (or not said and done when I believe I ought to have said and done them) for which I have a difficult time forgiving myself.

    And, yes, of course, it’s okay for you to borrow my term!

    Love you


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