Sunday, April 04, 2010

How often should we forgive?

In Matthew 18:21-22, St. Peter posed the question to Christ: "Lord, how often shall my brother offend against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" and Jesus answers with this: "I say not to thee, till seven times; but till seventy times seven times" (Douay-Rheims Bible).

Seventy times seven times? So we need to forgive as often as 490 times? In a single day, that means forgiving one individual as often as around 20 times an hour, and let me tell you: if you're being hurt by someone you know that often in a single hour, then you've got problems on your hands, and if you're willing to even put up with a person offending you that often in that short amount of time, then you're to be applauded for your saintly patience! But I digress...

How should we read into this figure of "seventy times seven times"? Is this a ball-park figure Jesus was giving us? Was this figure all we needed to fulfil to ensure that we were forgiving others? The short answer is 'no'.

What's important to realise about the way Christ often spoke to his followers, was that he would speak using hyperbole. A hyperbole is an extravagant statement, an obvious exaggeration or a figure of speech. Christ uses hyperboles fairly often. Another notable example of this is in Mark 9:47 where Jesus speaks of plucking out ones eye (and earlier mentioned your hand or foot) if it causes you to sin. Jesus does not expect us to literally pluck out an eye or amputate a hand or foot if they cause us to sin, but rather to scrutinise those things which lead us to sin in the first place, be it a bad habit, temptation, a friend or an acquaintance, certain websites, certain programs on television, certain content on the internet, etc. But on the other hand, things like temptations can lead us to do good things, so denying one self of all temptations may not be ideal lest promptings to do good for others and yourself not be done. What Christ asks of us in this instance is to be aware of the things that cause us to sin and discern them with a degree of scrupulosity. Much in the same way certain websites on the internet promote good, holy and positive messages so cutting yourself off from the internet may not also be ideal and may, in some cases, be detrimental to our mental and spiritual well-being. Obviously if there's a particular website, e.g. a porn site, that causes you to sin, then the best thing to do would be to block access to that particular website (Blogger's note: if you suffer from a porn addiction yourself, there is help available). The point is that work on that which causes us to sin until it causes us to sin no more, and as Christ teaches through his hyperbole, drastic measures may at times need to be taken!

Back to St. Peter's question...

So how often should we forgive? Well, there is no specific amount of times we should forgive those in our lives and around us. What Jesus is trying to tell us is to always be prepared to forgive others for wrong-doing. Just as our Father in Heaven is willing to forgive us as willing as often as we are willing to ask for forgiveness, we should also be prepared to forgive as often as those around us are prepared to ask for forgiveness. But being prepared to forgive also means being willing to forgive even before a friend or loved one asks for forgiveness as well, thus Christ's emphasis on a high frequency of forgiveness. The focal point is placed on the readiness to forgive until the matter is settled within our own heart.

The bottom line: always be ready to forgive, and forgive each other as the Lord forgives us (Colossians 3:13)!

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