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October 1981

I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven. (Mt. 18. 22)

To whom was Jesus talking when he said these words? Do you remember? He was answering Peter who, after listening to Jesus saying wonderful things, asked him this question: "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?' And Jesus said: "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven." 

Probably Peter, under the influence of the Master's preaching, had decided to commit himself to the new line by doing something exceptional in his characteristic generosity and goodness: he would forgive up to seven times. In Judaism forgiveness was allowed two, three, or at the most four times. 

But Jesus answering, "... seventy times seven" is saying that for him forgiveness must be unlimited: we must always forgive.

I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

These words remind us of the song of Lamech, a descendant of Adam: "Sevenfold vengeance is taken for Cain, but seventy-sevenfold for Lamech." (Gen. 4. 24) This shows us the way hatred first spread among men and affected their relations: hatred spread like a river in flood, a high tide. 

Jesus opposes this spreading of evil with forgiveness which is without limit, unconditional, and capable of breaking the circle of violence. 

Forgiveness is the only solution that will halt disorder and open up a future for humanity which is not self - destruction. 

I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

Forgive. Forgive always. Forgiveness is not forgetting, which often means wanting to avoid reality. Forgiveness is not weakness, disregarding a wrong out of fear of the superior strength of the one who committed it. Forgiveness does not mean saying a serious matter has no importance, or calling evil good. 

Forgiveness is not indifference. Forgiveness is an act of will and of lucidity, and therefore an act of freedom, which entails accepting our brother as he is, in spite of the wrong he has done us, as God accepts us sinners, in spite of our defects. Forgiveness entails not replying to an offence with an offence, but doing what Paul says: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom. 12. 21)

Forgiveness entails giving the person who has wronged you the chance of a new relationship with you, the chance for him and for you to start life, again, to have a future in which evil does not have the last word. 

I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

How then will you live this word? 

It is Jesus' reply to Peter who had asked: 'How often shall I forgive my brother?" ... my brother. 

Jesus' reply, therefore, was directed above all to relations between Christians, between members of the same community. 

It is, therefore, in the first place towards your fellow Christians that you must behave in this way: in the family, at work, at school, or in your community, if you belong to one. 

You know how often you want to pay back the wrong you have suffered with a corresponding action or word. You know how love is often lacking amongst those who live together, either because of differences of character, nervousness, or for other reasons. Remember that only an attitude of forgiveness, continually renewed, can maintain peace and unity amongst brothers. 

You will always have the tendency to think of your brothers' defects, to remember their past, to wish they were different... you must acquire the habit of seeing with new eyes, of seeing them as new people, accepting them always, immediately, and completely, even if they are unrepentant. 

You will say: "But it's difficult". That's understandable. But this is the beauty of Christianity. Not for nothing are you following a God who, dying on the cross, asked his Father to forgive those who had put him to death. 

Take heart. This is how life begins. I assure you that you will have a peace and joy that you have never experienced before.

Chiara Lubich



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