Matthew 18:21-22 NRSV

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (or seventy times seven).

As I reread this passage, I can’t help but think of a memory my older brother and I shared at a reunion last year. We were remembering stories of our father who died quite a few years ago. We grew up with what we considered strict discipline. As kids, it seemed that our requests for permission to do anything were always met with the answer, “No”. There was more spirit than tolerance. My father’s mother (who died before we were born) was born in Ireland, but his father’s family had been in our hometown of Dedham, Mass., for three generations. We had some wonderful, warm, genuine family friends, yet other people were almost shunned, as if they had done something wrong. As kids, my brother and I did not understand where these grudges came from, but knew they were not right. Nevertheless, our existence was mostly in a zero tolerance world (and certainly the old adage “three strikes and you’re out” was reality).

One day shortly after my brother got his driver’s license, he requested use of the family car. My mother, as usual, said, “you better ask your father.”  My father, as usual, said, “No.” It was going to entail being out at night to meet friends for a movie. The appeal, with my help, was (to our surprise) successful. We would be careful and we promised to be home on time. We left and several hours later we found ourselves with the police. On the way home in the rain, my brother had miscalculated a turn and had lost control of the car. The front end had slammed into a ramp sign and the front end of my father’s Buick was all crumpled. My brother was scared and figured he was in a deep hole. He asked me to call our father. 

“Dad, we’ve been in an accident and the car is all damaged.”
“Are you two all right?”
“Yes, we are ok, but the car….”
“Don’t worry about the car… how are you? Good. Come on home.”

Strangely enough, that was the last of the story for the rest of our lives as my father never brought it up. In our zero tolerance, “I told you so” upbringing, this was a complete disconnect.

I never really understood the reaction of my father until I became a parent. Somehow God created us with a huge capacity to be loving, humble, grateful and hopeful. When Jesus told Peter to forgive “…not seven times, but seventy seven,” he was in a sense saying there is no limit. This is a very tough message, indeed, for a society that seems to thrive on conflict, confrontation and the concept of “getting even.”

At the recent Ash Wednesday service, Pastor Eve spoke eloquently that “we all fall down.”  We are all mortal and broken. As our Wesley study group discussed last week, even John Wesley in his life of divinely inspired good works and discipleship had one incident in his life where he held a personal grudge and reminded us of his mortality. Indeed we all need to get out of ourselves, think of others, help others and put our trust in its rightful place, in God’s hands.

Prayer:  O God, help us to forgive.  Help us to use Lent as a time of renewal and prayer. As we walk through Lent, help us to remember the example of Jesus: Loving Hearts, Humble Minds, and Grateful Souls, with Hopeful Strength. Amen.

Michael Colbert

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