“If your brother sins against you . . .” (18:15). And, so, Jesus begins to tell us in the church how to deal with wrongs committed against us: Go to the offending brother; if he does not listen, take others with you to speak to him; if he still refuses to listen, he becomes as an outsider. Later in the conversation, “Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will 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-seven times’” (18:21-22). Obviously, from Jesus’ opening instructions, there are limits to how far we go with an offending brother or sister, but his answer to Peter has always astounded me and, I suspect, blew Peter away. May I offer a loose paraphrase of Jesus’ words? “Forgive, and keep on forgiving.”
There are those in the church who will hold on to grudges, they will nurse personal offenses until they simply cannot let them go, and they will themselves become cranky, ugly people. In the church we are to be forgiving people! After all, we who have been forgiven so much, how can we not also forgive? I cannot help but remember the sinful woman who anointed Jesus, who then said, “’I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven -- for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’” And he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven’” (7:47-48). We who have been forgiven much, let us forgive others!
Forgiveness! ‘tis a joyful sound
To malefactors doomed to die;
Lord, may this bliss in me be found;
May I redeeming grace enjoy.
For this stupendous love of heaven,
What grateful honors shall we show?
Where much transgression is forgiven,
May love in equal ardor glow. -- Thomas Gibbons (18th century)