Forgive Seventy Times Seven: Do the Math
I remember taking math classes in high school and being in an almost constant state of confusion. I just didn’t grasp the concepts.
Perhaps that’s why it’s so amusing to me that I’m now actually good at mental math. I can quickly add numbers in my head and easily figure out how much those percentage-off tags are going to save me at a sale.
But I’m still positive I couldn’t pass Algebra again. I’m actually not sure how I passed it all those years ago.
When I think about how Jesus told Peter in Matthew 18:21-22 to forgive others seventy times seven times, I don’t need to use my mental math abilities.
I know the number He expected me to understand is one that can be summed up in one word—infinity.
And I know infinity never ever ends.
It doesn’t even pause to jump off the number line when circumstances seem to require it to.
It just goes on and on forever. And we all know that forever is a much longer time than our finite brains can grasp.
That kind of math stops me in my tracks. After all, there are times when someone really hurts my feelings. Sometimes I feel completely justified to hold a grudge, to retaliate, to withhold the one thing that only I can give away—forgiveness.
I like it when my math adds up correctly.
If I can figure out how much money I can save at a sale, I expect the receipt to reflect it. I don’t like paying more than I have to. I doubt anyone does.
Maybe that’s why this infinity math trips me up again and again.
My brain is too good at tallying up what the other person has done to me, and when I’m busy with that kind of mental math, I find I don’t focus on the much more simple math that Jesus requires of me.
When Peter was asking Jesus about forgiveness, he first admitted that it was his brother who had offended him. Then he stopped short of listing the many instances where he had needed to forgive this brother of his.
I can’t help but think that with just a little encouragement Peter would have gladly shared exactly what had happened to offend him.
Aren’t we like that too? Don’t we expect to feel better when we can vent to someone about how we’ve been done wrong?
But Jesus didn’t ask Peter how he felt. He didn’t pull out a price list of sorts to attach varying values to different grievances.
No, He didn’t focus on how Peter felt at all. He basically told Peter that he needed to assign one price to everything; he needed to make everything free.
How frustrating that must have been for Peter, a man who we all think of as a hothead who made rash decisions. He’s someone I relate to in many ways.
Even though I don’t have a bad temper, I feel things very deeply. I often wonder if I’ve forgiven others enough, if I’m justified to just move on.
But, like He did with Peter, Jesus is asking me to pay it all too, asking me to assign a price tag of free to everyone who causes me pain.
This is hard to do when the other person appears to assign no value at all to me.
It’s when I allow my feelings to get involved that this kind of math seems like too high of a price to pay. In fact, it’s agonizing. It’s a fight that I struggle with until I finally realize that I’m not being asked to use my own currency to pay for anything at all.
You see, there’s only one reason I can even consider forgiving someone who has inflicted pain on me, whether it’s the kind that comes from overtly attacking me or simply ignoring me.
Even though this type of pain didn’t originate with me, when I’m experiencing it I tend to feel very much alone.
And then I realize I’m not alone at all.
Jesus experienced everything I do. There were the people who physically attacked Him, verbally abused Him, and used their words to deny Him. There still are.
But there’s another type of person, too. The ones who ignore Him. The ones who choose to ignore the One who literally died for them, paying the ultimate price for them.
And I hold onto bitterness when I’m mistreated or ignored? The math suddenly doesn’t add up for me.
If Jesus could forgive me, how can I not forgive someone else?
After all, I know myself. I know who I am, what I’ve done, what I say and do and think day after day.
I know how unbelievably undeserving I am of His forgiveness.
I remember how all I had to do was pick up His gift of forgiveness, how it was free to me while costing Him everything. And I’m very much aware that I still experience that same grace and mercy from Jesus every day.
Yet I struggle to give even a tiny bit of it away to someone else?
When Peter asked the Lord about forgiveness, his focus was on himself. He wanted to be let off the hook after his allotted forgiveness budget had reached the maximum limit that he had assigned to it. But Jesus knew something Peter didn’t.
Jesus sees others in a way I struggle with.
He sees inside their hearts, past their actions.
I can’t help but think that’s the formula for this math problem. If I looked past the words that come out of someone’s mouth, past their actions, and even past the way they turn their back on me, would it be possible to see their heart the way Jesus does?
Would it then be possible for me to truly love them the way He does?
It isn’t hard to spend money on someone I love. In fact, I often have to resist buying too much. It isn’t hard to forgive someone I love either.
I wonder if Peter was so focused on what his brother had done to him that he forgot everything he had ever done.
I wonder if when I focus on the ugliness in others if I somehow manage to forget my own.
Could it be that I’ve been the problem all along?
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”Matthew 18:21-22 kjv