Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 18:21-22 – June 22, 2012)
In an alternative reading, Jesus tells Peter to forgive “seventy times seven times.” Whether seventy-seven or 490 times, Jesus’ point is that forgiveness is continuous. It isn’t a once-over-and-done sort of thing; it is something that must go on and on and on. ~ Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a man I greatly respect, once said this about forgiveness: “To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger. However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.” ~ Note that the archbishop refers to forgiveness as a “process”. Again, a process is not a single instant. The dictionary tells us that a process is “a systematic series of actions directed to some end” or “a continuous action, operation, or series of changes.” Changing the other person, or getting him or her to change actions, behavior, or words isn’t the point of forgiveness; forgiveness is about changing oneself, one’s own life. As Archbishop Tutu said, “It is the best form of self-interest.” ~ Nor is forgiveness reconciliation. Forgiveness can lead to reconciliation, but not always; sometimes (for example, if the offender is dead, absent, or unwilling to communicate) reconciliation is impossible. Forgiveness, however, is always possible, even when reconciliation is not. ~ Do you need to forgive someone? Take the first step: move away from your role as victim. There are only 489 more steps to go!