“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” –Luke 23:34
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!” (Matthew 18:21–22 NLT)
According to Arthur Carr, “The Rabbinical rule was that no one should ask forgiveness of his neighbour more than thrice.” Even today, in Middle and Near Eastern cultures there is a preoccupation with the number three; it is expected that any invitation should be extended three times before it is eagerly accepted. When Peter suggests forgiving others seven times, he probably thinks he is being incredibly generous. It’s even possible he chose seven times because in the ancient Jewish world in which he lived seven represented completeness, for God made all of creation in six days and rested on the seventh.
Jesus takes Peter’s overly generous number and explodes it. Keeping track of how many times you forgive someone when the upper limit is 490 would take quite the effort. In a way that highlights the ridiculous tendency we all have of quantifying everything, Jesus is saying that we should not keep track of the wrongs that have been done against us. Rather than forgiving until—until the fourth instance of wrongdoing, until I get frustrated, until it’s no longer convenient for me—Jesus is telling us to forgive without qualification.