Practice Forgiving

Matthew 18:21-22

Then Peter came and said to him, “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, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

Peter thought he was being magnanimous by offering to forgive someone seven times. In the culture of the time, many who heard this would think that Peter was offering to forgive someone once a day since there are seven days in a week. However, Jesus demands more of his followers. He calls them to forgive seventy-seven times [or in some translations seventy time seven times]. How could anyone keep track of that much forgiveness?

I had a friend who told a story of forgiveness in her own life. She had been married to a sailor for over twenty years. Since he was at sea most of the time, they only actually spent a few months together every year. When he retired from the Navy, neither of them were used to being around one another that much. They quickly grew apart, and he found another, younger woman, and left his wife behind as he began a new life with a new wife.

For many years, she had hated her ex-husband for what he had done. She felt betrayed and couldn’t image ever forgiving him for what he had done. Then one day. After confessing her anger and bitterness to a priest in the sacrament of reconciliation, the priest asked her if she could ever forgive him. Of course she couldn’t. So the priest asked her to try something. “Every morning while getting ready to face a new day, turn to God and say, ‘God bless Charlie.’” He told this was not a penance. She was not required to do it. However, she might just wan to try. The priest also told her that she could not tell God how to bless Charlie. That would be up to God.

So, every morning, as she began her day, she would say out loud, “God bless Charlie.” At first it was a chore. Then it became a habit. Then one morning, after many months of saying “God bless Charlie,” she looked in the mirror and wondered when she had started to mean it. She had practiced forgiving Charlie by praying for him so often that one day she stopped practicing forgiveness and just forgave him. She had not intended to do so. It just happened, as she said, “by the grace of God.”

I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, it was not uncommon for a parent to instruct a child to say “I’m sorry” to someone he or she hurt. It was also not uncommon for the parent to then insist that the offended child should say, “I forgive you.” Our parents taught us to practice forgiving, because sometimes we just don’t mean it the first time, and we have to do it over and over again until we get it right. Perhaps as often as seventy-seven times or maybe even as often as seventy times seven times.

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