Seven or Seventy-Seven Times?
It can be very hard for us to forgive people when they have harmed us in some way. It goes against our wounded human nature to renounce the vengeance we feel and to let those who have offended us go unpunished. But Our Lord today, in answer to Peter’s question tells us that we must not forgive only seven times, but seventy-seven times. This means we must be limitless in our forgiveness, because if we demand strict justice with those who offend us, we force God to demand strict justice from us. In other words we cut ourselves off from His mercy. “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:2).
If people are going to believe in God’s mercy, they need to see us acting mercifully. The Dutch Carmelite priest, Blessed Titus Brandsma, who was sentenced to death by the Nazis at Dachau in 1942 – as the nurse was about to give him the lethal injection, he handed her his Rosary and assured her of his forgiveness. This eventually led to the woman’s conversion, and in 1985 she was an official guest as his beatification ceremony in Rome.
Forgiving someone who has hurt us badly is difficult, but with God’s help it is possible. Forgiveness though doesn’t mean we should pretend nothing ever happened, or that we should not seek justice, or that we should say it doesn’t matter, or that your relationship with this person should return to its former state. Forgiveness here means letting go of any bitterness and the desire for revenge, and wanting the spiritual good of the other person. And if at this moment that is too hard, why not try asking JESUS to forgive that person on your behalf?
Fr Paul Gillham