Matthew 18:21-22 "Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
" That's it! I have had it!"
"Now you have crossed the line!"
"Never speak to me again."
These and many other such phrases leave our lips when we have reached our breaking point with someone who keeps hurting us. These are normal responses to constant abuse.
When I was abused as a young boy, I lived with that hate for years. When I found out that those I loved had been abused themselves my hate grew. No I hated my abuser, and their abuser. We had been powerless against our abusers. Anger helped me feel powerful. I could destroy something when I was angry. Hate made feel more powerful. I wanted people to fear me. I wanted to be so powerful that no one would every harm me again. I wanted to be so strong, physically and emotionally, that should I be asked to exert my power over someone else's life, even to the point of killing them, I would not back down for one moment.
So I fed my hate. I watched violent movies, studied different fighting systems, and meditated on violence. When I wanted affection, fornication was an easy fix. then I was back to hating. I had no real relationships. I could not speak to my family for months, and feel nothing. I didn't keep a girlfriend for more than 6 months. Then something would happen which I didn't like, and I'd break up with them. Hate was my identity. Justice was not possible, but the desire unfulfilled produced a frustration which went inward, unexpressed except when lashing out. A heart filled with hate, even self-hate, cannot love. Forgiveness...what was that?
How can we tell the abuse victim to forgive? How can we tell the rape victim to forgive? How can we tell the slave's children or the holocaust children to forgive? Do we know what they have been through? Isn't their cry for justice a valid one? Don't they have reason to be angry, to want separation, to seek justice...maybe even vengeance?
I have painted the picture bleak by using my own story. Maybe your story is not as extreme as mine, but the reality is the same. Somewhere inside the heart of the abused is a small flicker of the flame of hatred, born in anger, fanned by fear, and fueled in the frustration of a justice that may not come soon.
Maybe your anger is not against the other, but against yourself. You blame yourself for the abuse you or a loved one received. You should have been more aware. You should have been stronger.
If you had only bobbed when you weaved...
If you hadn't taken that job...
If you had stayed home...
Peter, the primary hothead of the disciples, asks Jesus the question, "How many times must I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? 7x's" Peter is a fighter. When the mob came to get Jesus, Peter tried to cleave a man's head in two with his sword (John 18:10). He missed. He was willing to kill for Jesus, in order to ensure that Jesus received justice. He was rebuked by Jesus. Peter was so emotionally overcome with fear for himself, and sadness with shame that his maters was being treated poorly during the trial, that when asked if he knew Jesus Peter swore like a “gangsta" rapper. Peter was forgiven by Jesus.
The Peters of the world need to feel strong. They make their own path. No one owns them, no one controls them. Inside all of us is a Peter. Especially when we get hurt by others, our Peter comes roaring out, demanding justice, swinging attitude and words like swords aimed to kill the heart and the character of our assailant. Our Peters defend us voraciously, to the point that our Peters are ashamed that Jesus himself isn't fighting with us. Jesus doesn't seem to be on our side, so we think. We want a set number on how far we must go before we can let Peter out. Jesus does not give us this out.
Peter asks if 7 times was good enough. & is the number of completion and perfection. it is first mentioned in Genesis 2 when dealing with Sabbath. Asking god if I may forgive only 7x's is me actually asking God if I have reached his standard. "After the 7th time, can I then rest from forgiveness Jesus? Can I then be full of rage? Have I not reached perfect forgiveness?"
It is interesting that the next time 7 is used it is in connection with Cain (Genesis 4). Cain killed Abel, he was clearly in the wrong, and he told God he was afraid that someone would kill him. God then placed a mark on Cain. Anyone who found Cain and killed him would have to answer to God, who would punish that one 7x's. Our Peters really want that. We want the protection that God gave Cain, even when we are wrong, so that anyone who hurts us will suffer 7x's.
The first time 70 is used is in the same chapter. Cain's decedent, Lamech, killed a man for hurting him. Thus Lamech was abused, he was wronged. He then proclaims, "If Cain will be avenged 7x's, Lamech will be avenged 70x's!" Lamech's thinks to invoke God's protection to vindicate his violent, and possibly justifiable, response to abuse. This is where most of us want to be. Someone hurt me, I will kill them, and if anyone comes to punish me, let them be punished 70x's for even thinking about it. How our Peters would love to be Lamech. In the presence of Jesus, however, we must at least give the appearance of Christ-likeness. So let's forgive them 7x's!
Jesus' response is unique. He tells Peter to forgive 70x7...490 times! First of all, who is gonna keep count of that! thats 490x's for everyone! Jesus is nuts! Jesus just merged my Cain-ish guilt and God's grace, with my Lamech Innocence and self-vindication!
Additionally, 70x7 is a unique number in the Bible. it can be found in Daniel 9. it deals with the 70 week prophecy leading to the Messiah. It is a prophecy dealing with an entire people, not just a person here and there. So what Jesus is actually saying to Peter is this: "Peter, you are to forgive each person with the same amount of forgiveness God has given your entire race since the beginning of this prophecy." That is 490 years worth of forgiving sins for an entire nation's sins: the ones they committed and the one's committed against them!
Why does Jesus do this? He gives his reasoning in the parable following Peters question, found in Matthew 18:23-35. The summary point of the parable is this: the sins committed against me as exponentially insignificant compared to the multitudenous myriads of sins I have committed against God, which He has forgiven.
Jesus does not mince words. He is not being harsh. Cain needs forgiveness, Lamech needs vindication. Both are found in the fulfillment of the 490-year prophecy of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Jesus is our vindication and our forgiveness. Jesus is in essence telling Peter: "Your brother sinned against you? Put that on me, I will get you justice. You sinned against someone? Give it to me, I will get you forgiveness."