“Not seven times, but seventy times seven times . . .”
In other words, without limit. Why? Well, because Jesus says so
– a pretty good reason even if we just stop there. But Jesus
goes on to spell out the reason in the parable of the man who was
forgiven a great debt, but then turned around and refused to forgive
his fellow servant.
We must forgive, first, because we have been forgiven. Christian
ethics has been well characterized as a “therefore”
ethics. God has done this; therefore we must do likewise
(out of sheer gratitude if for no other reason). Christian ethics
is not based in philosophy or abstract concepts; it is based in
an action – God’s saving action. We can never afford
to lose sight of God’s action – God’s prior reaching
out to us.
But there is a second reason for his limitless forgiving. God’s
purpose is to save everyone. As Christians we explicitly take that
mission as our own, and we are empowered to do so by our baptism.
(After all, as St. Paul says, in Baptism we have died with Christ.
The new life we live is precisely His life, His spirit, living in
us.) The person who has offended us is already forgiven by God.
How, then, can we withhold our own forgiveness? In other words,
how can we do so and call ourselves Christian? When we forgive,
we simply make God’s prior forgiveness concrete here and now.
Probably the offender did not expect us to be forgiving. Perhaps
we help the offender experience God’s forgiveness in our own.
Perhaps we call both of us to a change of heart.