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September 1999

Not seven, I tell you, but seventy times seven. (Matt. 18: 22)

These words were said in reply to Peter who, after listening to the marvellous things Jesus was saying, put this question to him: "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times?" Jesus answered:

Not seven, I tell you, but seventy times seven.

In all probability, Peter had been so struck by the master's preaching that, full of goodness and generosity as he was, he decided to take a bold step forward in this new way of behaving by doing something exceptional, being willing to forgive as many as seven times. In fact Judaism accepted the idea of forgiving two or three times, but at the most four. By answering 'seventy times seven', Jesus is saying that the kind of forgiveness he wants has no limits. We must forgive always.

Not seven, I tell you, but seventy times seven.

This sentence calls to mind the biblical song of Lamech, a descendant of Adam: ‘Sevenfold vengeance is taken for Cain, but seventy-sevenfold for Lamech’ (Gen.4.24) Thus hatred began to spread among the people of this world swelling like a river in flood.

Against this spreading of evil, Jesus proposes an unlimited and unconditional forgiveness that is capable of breaking the vicious circle of violence.

Only forgiveness can cheek disintegration and offer humankind a future that is not self-destruction.

Not seven, I tell you, but seventy times seven.

We need to forgive, to forgive always. Forgiving is not the same as forgetting, which often implies unwillingness to face reality. Forgiveness is not weakness in the sense of ignoring a wrong done for fear of the stronger person who has committed it. Forgiveness does not mean saying that something does not matter when it is serious, or that something is good when it is bad.

Forgiveness is not indifference either. Forgiveness is a conscious act of will, and therefore a free act, which means welcoming our brothers and sisters as they are, despite the wrong done to us, just as God accepts us sinners, despite our faults. Forgiveness means not responding to one offence with another, but in doing what Paul tells us: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Rom. 12:21)

Forgiveness means offering the person who has wronged you the chance to have a new relationship with you, so that both of you can start life again and have a future in which wrongdoing will not have the last word.

Not seven, I tell you, but seventy times seven.

How can we live this Word of Life? Peter had asked Jesus: "Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?"

‘...my brother’: in answering him Jesus was mainly thinking about the relationships among Christians, among members of the same community. So it is first of all with our brothers and sisters in faith that we must act like this - in our own family, at work, at school, in the community to which we belong.

We know that when we are offended we are often tempted to react with similar words or deeds.

Often, differences in temperament, or stress, or other causes, mean that those who live in the same household fail to love one another. We must never forget that only an attitude of forgiveness, constantly renewed, can maintain peace and unity.

We will always be inclined to think of our brothers’ and sisters’ failings, to remember their past and want them to be different from the way they are. So we must get into the habit of looking at them with new eyes and seeing them as new people, accepting them always, immediately and completely, even if they do not repent.

‘It is very hard to do this’ some might say, understandably. But this is the beauty of Christianity. Indeed, it is Christ we are following, Christ who, on the cross, asked the Father to forgive those who were killing him, and he rose from the dead.

Take courage then. Let's begin to live a life like this; it will give us a new peace and a great joy never felt before.

Chiara Lubich

 

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