In the Gospel of Matthew 18:21- 35, Peter asked Jesus, ‘How often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?’ Before Jesus could respond, he (Peter) went on to proffer an answer; ‘Seven times.’ He obviously thought that he was being overly generous, and so, Jesus would be impressed, but then, Jesus answered, ‘Not seven, but seventy-seven times.’ In the Jewish tradition, the number seven signifies completeness or perfection, and so, to offer forgiveness seven times is to offer the perfect measure of forgiveness, the perfect number of times required. But then in response, Jesus gave the parable of the unforgiving servant; the servant who would neither be patient with a fellow servant nor forgive him his debts, even when he himself had not only received patience, but outright forgiveness of his debts from his master. Dear brothers, dear sisters, that parable is given to us in order to instruct us that we must go beyond minimum standards and expectations in our relationship with our brothers and our sisters. With forgiveness as an example, Jesus teaches us that we must not keep a score of wrongs or place a limit on how much love we offer.
In other words, forgiveness is not simply an action that we carry out; it is a relational and reciprocal act. To forgive is to enter into a relationship with the person concerned. And as we offer forgiveness, we expect forgiveness also, in the same way as God forgives us. By the way, when Jesus said, ‘Forgive seventy-seven times,’ he is not inviting us to keep a record of the wrongs, but he is in fact, setting a standard that makes record-keeping of wrongs impractical. He does not give us a maths lesson, but a grace lesson. Who can truly forgive seventy–seven times or even seven times, and keep ticking each one of them out of these seventy–seven times? By the time you do seventy–seven times, it must have become a habit to forgive, such that practically, you cannot be counting anymore. Who can forgive habitually, without becoming a forgiving person? My dear friends, the Lord Jesus is here, holding up a mirror, in order that we might see ourselves.
We are the servant who has been forgiven a huge amount of money, and God is the great king that has forgiven us. We must do the same to our fellow servants or we risk being handed over to the torturer till we pay all the debt. Even in eternity, we cannot pay all the debt we owe God, and therefore, we rely on grace to free us, the kind of grace that we are required to offer to others. This season of lent should help us to realize the need to remove the limit that we place on forgiveness. It is in the very nature of forgiveness to be entire and unlimited. Not only are we called to forgive those who have wronged us, we too are in need of forgiveness, and unless we forgive completely, we will be locked up in the ways of our yesterdays. May the Lord grant us a heart that truly forgives today and always. May God Almighty bless you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
• Most Rev. Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of the Metropolitan See of Lagos.