We’ve all asked this question at one time or another. “How many times do I have to forgive this guy? I’m getting tired of it. Why does he keep hurting me like he does?” Peter may have been thinking of a time when somebody wronged him and he had extended forgiveness. But, this same person did something to hurt him the next day. Again, Peter forgave him. A couple days later, his friend lied to him. This time, Peter reluctantly forgave him but now he’s ticked off. Peter wanted Jesus to help him set some forgiveness limits. Peter wanted to know when it’s OK to say, “That’s it. You’ve messed up one too many times!”
I wonder if Peter here is thinking of something his literal brother Andrew did. Maybe Andy didn’t put the fishing nets away, or maybe he was always borrowing Peter’s Old Navy jacket, or maybe he borrowed some shekels for some Chalupa’s at Taco Bell and never paid Peter back.
Whatever the case, before Jesus could answer, Peter responded to his own question by suggesting that seven times would be a good limit. That’s not a bad answer. The rabbis back then taught that you had to forgive someone three times and then you could retaliate. The fourth time you could do whatever you liked. In fact, they mistakenly taught that God only forgives three times. Peter doubled that and added one for good measure. I think he thought his answer would impress Jesus.
To be honest, forgiving someone seven times is commendable. Most of us get frustrated if we have to forgive someone twice. By human standards, what Peter said was admirable and perhaps even extravagant. But Peter wanted a number, a limit, a place where he could finally say, “That’s it — you’re not getting away with this any longer. Our friendship is now over.” As Jesus often does, his answer to Peter was unexpected and disarming. Take a look at verse 22: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven times.”
The crash you hear is Peter hitting the ground in a dead faint. He couldn’t believe his ears! Seventy times seven? He got out his pocket calculator [BRING CALCULATOR] and punched in the numbers. That’s 490 times!