SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN TIMES
(A biblical reflection on the 24th ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 17 September 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:21-35
First Reading: Sirach 27:30-28:9; Psalms: Psalm 103:1-4,9-12; Second Reading: Romans 14:7-9
The Scripture Text
Then Peter came up and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, “ I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the reckoning, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents; and as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him the lord of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But that same servant, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servants fell down and besought him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison till he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debat because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also My heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35 RSV)
In the first two chapters of the book of the Prophet Amos, we find God choosing not to punish various nations until they commit their fourth offense. God patiently forgives them on the first three occasions but his wrath flares up after that. Since we cannot expect a human being to be more patient and merciful than God, the rabbis of Jesus’ day concluded that no one had an obligation to forgive anyone more than three times.
Peter came out of last week’s Gospel looking pretty bad, but in today’s reading he tries to repair his tattered image by asking Jesus how many times he should forgive his brother. Being a good Jew, Peter knew he could not be expected to forgive anyone more than three times.
Without waiting for Jesus’ response, Peter asks if seven times is enough. He probably was looking for a pat on the back for being very merciful, and he undoubtedly wanted Jesus to praise him for his willingness to go beyond what was expected of him. Instead, Jesus goes one step further and tells him to be ready to forgive seventy times seven times.
Jesus did not literally mean we should forgive others 490 times (70×7=490). The phrase “seventy times seven” was symbolic of a great number, meaning we should always be ready to forgive. There must be no limit to our mercy.
Notice that the rabbis reasoned that the number of times a person should forgive is dependent on the number of times they believed God forgives us. Since God supposedly forgives three times, humans also should forgive three times. In the parables in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ reverses this logic by teaching that God’s forgiveness depends on our willingness to forgive others. If we forgive those who have offended us, God also will forgive us. However, if we hold a grudge or seek revenge, we cannot expect God to show us mercy. We have to forgive before being forgiven.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 92-93.)
Short Prayer: Our Lord Jesus Christ, thank You for Your death, which has brought me life. May all sinners know Your mercy and forgiveness. May our voices be one in praising You forever! Amen.
Jakarta, 16 September 2017
A Christian Pilgrim