In Matthew 18, Jesus talks about leaving 99 sheep to go find 1 lost one. He then lays out how Christians and the church are to deal with a sinning brother. It was after this that Peter inquires of Jesus as to what the ceiling is for how many times he had to forgive his sinning brother. Was it up to 7 times? Jesus told Peter not just 7 times, but 70 X 7, which, of course, equals up to 490 times.
Peter was essentially asking Christ, “When am I allowed to stop forgiving a brother who sins against me? Can you put a cap number on it, like maybe 7? That’s God’s perfect number, right, Jesus? Isn’t 7 times sufficient?
But look at what Peter is also asking, without directly asking it: “Can we establish a time, quantitatively, Jesus, when I no longer have to forgive someone who repeatedly sins against me, even if he asks for forgiveness each time?”
Jesus then delivers one of my favorite parables, where a servant who owes an impossible amount of debt to his master is completely forgiven that very same debt after begging for forgiveness. This servant, obviously unchanged by the amazing forgiveness he had just received, goes right out and demands debt fulfillment from a fellow servant who essentially owes him $20, even as the man begs for mercy. But, instead of mercy, he acts as if he’s never been in the fellow servant’s shoes and places the man in debtors’ prison until he can work off the amount owed to him.
What does this parable have to do with Jesus’ answer to Peter of 490?
Jesus is really magnifying here the ludicrous nature of such a merciless question. He illustrates in the parable that those who have really been forgiven by God will NEVER keep a “running tab” of the offenses anyone has committed against him, because the amount of offenses we have committed against God is innumerable in comparison; and, since He has forgiven us for infinitely more than all of our brothers’ offenses against us combined, we ought to spend our time simply forgiving others who have sinned and then asked forgiveness of us, whether it’s the 8th time, the 491st time, or anywhere in between.
Imagine if Jesus was really establishing a “490 Rule”:
- Spouses would no longer be forgiving one another within the first 2 years of marriage.
- Parents could arguably be past 490 by the time of each child’s first birthday.
- Siblings could be in the clear by noon on any given day.
However, keep in mind, just as God only forgives when sin is confessed, so are we obligated to forgive whenever anyone offends us and asks for forgiveness. Sure, we are not to hold grudges towards anyone, even if they don’t care if they’ve offended us or ever seek forgiveness. But for those who ever seek our forgiveness for sins they have committed against us, whether we point it out to them (the more likely case) or they realize it on their own (far less likely), we need to break the sound barrier in the speed it takes us to forgive that offending neighbor.
It should be a no-brainer! God forgave us much; we should forgive what amounts to soooooo little!
So, are you still waiting for #491? If so, get on your knees and go seek real forgiveness from God.