Sometimes when you are wronged, it can be difficult (or even very difficult) to forgive that person for what they have done, especially if they have done it, or, are still doing it, over and over. Especially, too, if they don’t seem to care that they have wronged us, and are not sorry!  So how do we forgive them? How do we forgive 70 x 7 times, and what does that mean?

That situation, first of all, has belonged to God.  God has been wronged by the human race, over and over again, and we’re still doing our wrongs, and too many in the world seem not to care about their sins—and the question is:   How often should God forgive?  What would be the limit?   Why do forgive, if the sinner will keep on sinning?   I think this 70 X 7 lesson could first be heard, in that, God has been 24/7/365 days -a-year a merciful One to us.

And He has been most merciful to you (whether you realize or acknowledge just how much it has been, or will be in God’s personal mercy to you.

Yes, Jesus’ line of Mercy—of providing it 70 X 7 is like Him saying 24/7/365 in today’s language, except that it also covers us every year of our living.   70X 7 forgiveness means a lifespan and every day of the week.   Assurance of God’s coverage, in the Blood of the Lamb Jesus Christ, Son of Mary and Son Eternal.

The sevens and seven also refer to a Mercy beyond time, into the eternal realm.   We’ll always have this coverage of The Precious Blood of the Lamb.   God wants forgiveness and mercy to reign forever, and for sin (and its consequences of death) to be no more.

Children, Youth and Adults:  How hard is it to say the three words:  “I am sorry” or “I forgive you?”   Is it hard sometimes?  Yes.  It is.

Children—in the story of St. Peter, Jesus’ good friend, we find out how he still sinned versus Jesus.   When he first met Jesus he sinned in thinking very little of Jesus and then in his last day of knowing Jesus he denied ever knowing Him, even three times. Inbetween, Peter would have also sinned against Jesus—and yet, Jesus still forgave Peter, all because Peter was a person who knew how to apologize.   Which he did to Jesus, and Jesus forgave him.   Once, after Jesus arose and appeared to Peter, He asked him three times:   Do you love me, Peter? (which also meant, do you want friendship with Me to keep lasting) and Peter said yes to each of the times, and Jesus then said:  Great, Simon Peter, now all is fine and you can be the leader of the Church for me.   You are my great friend.   I trust you.   (see John 21).

For our adults and young adults, you remember more of Peter’s story.  You can recall the highs and lows of Peter’s ministry happening even back-to-back(Mk.8. Jn.11 Mt.16).

In the highs, Peter is first and foremost to recognize Jesus for all He came as:  You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. That answer of understanding delighted Jesus.  Then, in the lows, the Gospel story goes on to show how Peter had said something to Jesus that made Our Lord to get quite upset.  It was about his assertion and comment of how The Christ should never suffer for His flock of followers. Jesus showed how much He was upset at it, by His basic words:  Get behind me, Satan.   Jesus saw that the anti-Christ spirit of the world was still influencing Peter and the others in a bad way.   The Christ was indeed the Lamb of God Who would suffer in love for saving His own.  Jesus basically told (scolded) Peter, ‘The devil got to you, Peter, for that awful thing you said to Me.’   Now, did Jesus forgive Peter of it?  Yes.  Peter would come to see things Jesus’ Way.

As Peter and the apostles and disciples learned more about Divine Mercy, it led Peter (and the other followers to wonder and ask):    How often should I forgive a person?  Seven times?.  So, Jesus says:  No, that’s too little a number.  How about 70 times 7?

Children, and adults and young adults, using your hands, flash seven times of 10, and then do it ninety-nine more times, and see that Jesus wants a lot of mercy to be shown. He wants us to be merciful, like He is.   It’s ok, I’ll wait for you to finish…..  J

The world needs love and mercy like that.

Youth and young adults– I recall back to my Confirmation class with Mr. Marsh in 8th and 9th grade, which was at my home St. Pius X Bowie parish Religious Ed. program. (Like the one we have here, but for 8th grade.)   I recall a lesson on forgiveness among my lessons then– and it was on this 70 times 7 amount of mercy.   Mr. Marsh, my teacher, who also was my soccer coach, and also a dad of one of my high school classmates, asked us what we thought Jesus meant by these numbers.   Was it forgiving a sinner versus us, 490 times?!   He asked if we knew any such offender.

I guess I shouldn’t have done it, but I volunteered that my brother Kevin probably did 490 infractions on me, needing mercy.  Mr. Marsh commented.  You, John, being his brother, probably also have sinned versus Kevin 490 times and probably even more, being the elder brother!  You would be the more guilty, for sure, for knowing a little better!   I nodded.  Most probably so, Mr. Marsh.

So, rather than look to how many times my younger brother sinned on me, I now was looking on how I was certainly myself an exceeder of 490 offenses versus Kevin.

Mr. Marsh advised me to practice mercy in my life, and he said that brothers sharing a bedroom probably need to do a 70 times 7 mercy every year!    Mr. Marsh said that if we two brothers could forgive 70 X 7 to one another, then God’s mercy could help us along the way to peace and some agreement, even for a good friendship later in life.   He was right.   But, you know when the peace accord really got struck?  When I moved out to college.   Kevin got the room all to himself.   All was well. That is, I think he missed me and all our shared conversations and helping each other out.   But he was happy to have his own room, and was happy to have—well, actually, I did not get my own room in college, as I shared it for much of my college time, and then I shared a room for two of my seminary years.   But eventually I got my own room.

Kevin had his own room for several years, but now he is sharing one again.  He’s married now, and he has a wife as his roommate.   I just hope that maybe I prepared him well for that shared life he will have the rest of the way.  At their wedding reception, I told his new wife.   I have 14 years living and surviving with Kevin in the same place.   When you beat my record, I will hand over the medal I have for that attainment!

Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:21-22,

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

So was Jesus instructing Peter, and ultimately us to just forgive a limited number of times? Is, then, 490 forgiveness actions the limit?  By no means. The deeper picture that Christ was painting for the disciples was that God was always in a forgiving mode.

The Lord, in this parable, could actually also have been alluding to the 490 years of the whole genealogy of Jesus.   It was 14 generations of Jesus’ coming in the making. (See Matthew chapter 1.)   God was coming to His people in mercy, even though most of that history of the Jews had been of infidelity on His people’s part.   Still, there had always been a remnant of faithful people (such as in Joseph’s and Mary’s family tree); God would be faithful to those people of continued faith and hope.  Mercy came in Jesus Christ.   It was a mercy building for about 490 years.   70 times 7.

In the parable, Jesus was saying that, as God would be merciful, and come to save and redeem His people, so then could we be imitators of Him, and show some deep mercy. Jesus was saying in His Mercy teachings, that, even in the hardest of situations, forgive.

The Jews could also have looked upon their own experience of the 490 years before Christ as a time to endure my offenses upon them from their enemies.  It could have been how they heard Jesus’ parable speaking to them.   The Jews had suffered 490 years of being under the Babylonians and then under the Greeks and then the under the most cruel Romans—and longed for revenge and control back of their land.  They might have wanted a Super Christ of Power to come and annihilate their enemies for those five millennia of hurts and wrongs of domination and persecution and pain and suffering in the atrocities and killings committed upon their people.   Jesus said:  I Am the Christ, but not of condemnation, but of mercy.   I want to teach you how to be healed in your hearts and to show love, even in the face of much wrongdoing and evil.

Jesus was teaching them to forgive.  He would have been the One most offended by the world, and here God came in a forgiving, not punishing, mode.   What a lesson!

Jesus wanted to set the Jews and all peoples free of all the resentment and anger and fury within them.   He knew that such harboring of un-forgiveness would do His people no good.   Let it go, He said.   Let God take care of all necessary judgment and fixing of things into fair justice.    You learn Mercy, just as Mercy has been shown to you.  Of course, we have learned that Jesus’ advice is precious and true.   There’s an old saying that says, ‘Harboring un-forgiveness or bitterness, is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.’   Being merciful actually helps you to be set free, even if when you’ve been a victim.   Turning things over to God is wise.   The Cross of Jesus sees all.   The judgment seat of Christ in God will miss nothing.   We will all need much Mercy then.

Jesus goes on to teach His followers various other lessons on Mercy.  He teaches a parable about a king that forgave a great debt for a slave, and then the slave went out and demanded a small sum from a fellow slave. When he could not pay, he had his fellow slave thrown in jail.   You recall the story, right?!   We hear the story and wonder why the slave/servant could not connect the dots that His debt forgiveness should have led to his being merciful to another lesser situation under him.   Well, that is the same as God being the big forgiver of us, and so how we can be a forgiver of others in lesser things.

Christ was in the grand scheme of things showing us how the Father continually forgives us of great debts.   He wants us, in turn, to go the extra mile, too….

Going The Extra Mile…  Just a few chapters back in Matthew 5, Christ paints an even grander picture for us. He said:  If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”   So, there is the deeper lesson:  If you want to be perfected, and fully become as a believer, and as a child of God–then, let the Perfect One teach you on Mercy.

Now take what Christ said in chapter 18 of Matthew and tie it into this. Christ was telling them forgive even in the most difficult of situations. The Jews were still under Roman oppression. A Roman soldier could pretty much demand anything from them, and they had to comply.  A soldier could and would force a Jew to carry their pack for a mile, even on the sabbath. Technically doing that much work on the sabbath was forbidden by Jewish law. But, again, Jesus going against the grain, as He told them to forgive the soldier in that instance and gladly go the extra mile.

Love Your Enemy  In verse 44 in this Sermon on the Mount lesson, He instructs them to love their enemies.  Wow, that can be hard.  The enemies that He was discussing was of any person who had a deep hatred for them, even to the point of wanting them dead. This would be those who held them in captivity and those who ruled over them currently. It can also be applied to simple “enemies” such as a neighbor you are feuding with, but the Greek word (used for “enemy” in this text) meant so much more than that.

Your task of loving your enemy is shown to mean, even all those who don’t love you:  “It is easy to love those who love you…”, Jesus said, but what about the challenging person to your heart?   Here Jesus was teaching His disciples to go to the next level in their relationship with the Father.   So I think Jesus was challenging us to rethink forgiveness the next time somebody would wrong us. Just think of how difficult it must have been for first century Jews to take this command, with all of Israel’s enemies.

So, too, for us—the world may not like us as Christ’ followers either—but we’ll love them regardless of any or all mistreatment to us.  Our job is to help them to be saved in Christ.   If our oppressor or ill-treater can see Jesus’ love in us, perhaps it’ll move them to consider how there is a Love and Mercy Force in the world—and He is JESUS ALIVE..   And He comes through the love one another hearts of His followers.

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