How many times should we let someone off the hook before punishment is enforced? Peter asked Jesus this logical question, whose answer was probably not what we might expect. “Seventy- seven times,” Jesus responded. Or more literally translated, “seventy times seven times” (v. 22). Jesus was not teaching Peter a quick math lesson; rather, He was teaching him what a new way to forgive looks like in the kingdom of God.
Before Peter could respond, Jesus launched into a parable to shed light on His answer. In this parable, the servant owed his master the equivalent of 20 years of wages (v. 24). Yet, he was forgiven. However, when his co-worker owed the forgiven servant just a small sum, he was unwilling to forgive (vv. 28–30). Jesus’ point was not that a severe punishment comes from the master when he is crossed. That would be contrary to Jesus’ teaching in the prior verses. Rather, Jesus was teaching that because we have been forgiven beyond comprehension, we are to forgive others. This was a new concept for people in the first century, and it can be a difficult one for us today.
In a culture where the custom was “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth” (Ex. 21:24), Jesus taught that forgiveness is a new way, a better way. It is never easy, but it is what we have been called to do. Christ’s words to His oppressors from the cross, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34), remind us that even while we wait for justice to come in this world, we have been called to forgive. Not just once, or twice, but unconditionally and unendingly.
>> Who do you need to forgive? Maybe it is a neighbor, co-worker, old friend, or family member? Maybe you need help forgiving yourself? Remember that God unconditionally and unendingly forgives, and so should we.