19th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)
Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
In the biblical world, seven signified perfection and completion, as in the seven days of creation in Genesis. Peter thought he was mirroring the divine mind by proposing to forgive up to seven times. Jesus leapt beyond the seven of paradise to the seventy-seven of the wilderness of Cain and Lamech:
“If Cain is avenged sevenfold,
then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:24).
The seven of Cain ran in the opposite direction of the original seven, and spiraled down the negative ramp. Jesus’ positive “seventy-seven” covered over a “multitude of sins,” as Peter would later write about divine love (I Peter 4:8). Forgiveness has no limit.
In the parable that followed Peter’s question, a servant who owed his master an exorbitant amount was forgiven the loan by his master. Then strangely, he turned around and imprisoned a fellow servant who owed him a much smaller amount, exacting full payment. What transpired between the master and the servant earlier? Lack of self-knowledge caused the servant to brush off his debt as of little consequence. Shallowness spawned ingratitude which choked compassion.
He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
The unmerciful servant was tying his own noose, failing to realize that he and his brother were one: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Every good or evil done to another is done to ourselves. Otherness and oneness, diversity and unity, are inseparable in a humanity stamped with the Triune image.
The warning, “So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart,” shows that we cannot separate our own good from that of our brothers and sisters.
The vehemence with which we insist on our own rights and privileges must be extended to our neighbors to be complete, seven, and seventy-seven.