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Article: The Gospel of Mercy

March 25, 2017

None of us like to forgive. It goes against our most base desire for revenge and justice. We feel often that people get what they deserve and this is how life should work. We see a disobedient child and we hope for their discipline. We avoid a rowdy driver and then want to watch a police car with spinning lights pull them over. We want people to get what they deserve.

 

We see this type of thinking in Peter’s question to Jesus (story is found in Matthew 18.21-22). The Jewish tradition demanded that a person be forgiven three times. They observed that God forgave the Israelite’s enemies three times in the book of Amos 1.1-13 and felt that if that were good enough for God, then it was good enough for them (ignoring the hundreds of times God had forgiven them in the past).

 

So Peter asks the Lord, “How often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” How generous! Peter was willing to double the Jewish tradition, and then add one more for good measure. Peter was not being stingy with his mercy, but rather generous by Jewish standard. Likely, Peter had already noticed a forgiving spirit in the character of Jesus and was recognizing that Jesus’ standard would be much higher than the tradition of the Jews.

 

Jesus’ response was even more merciful. “Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Some verse say seventy-seven times. The real idea is that Peter asks if forgiveness should be sevenfold, and Jesus responds with seventy-sevenfold. This amount of mercy is beyond generous, beyond measure, and beyond human nature.

 

Human nature really is quite the opposite. We see our human ways of doing things in another story of the Bible. When God banishes Cain in the garden, Cain pleads with God for mercy and God says that any who would harm Cain would be punished sevenfold (Gen 4.15). Lamech, Cain’s descendant, was a violent and worldly man who shows the reality of human nature without God. He says that he killed a young man for wounding him and “If Cain's revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech's is seventy-sevenfold” (Gen 4.24). Human nature states that revenge should be magnified. God’s nature magnifies mercy.

 

We have a choice in life. We can be like Lamech and pursue human justice and seek revenge. Or we can be like God who is willing to forgive, forget, and move forward in pursuing a loving and fulfilling relationship. If we are going to be like God, we can place no boundaries on our mercy because He has placed none on His willingness to forgive you and me. 

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