For the longest time, I thought Peter's question about forgiving even as often as seven times meant that he was thinking of seven distinct offenses. Lately, though, I am hearing his question--and recognizing the need for Jesus' answer--in terms of forgiving the same person over and over for the same offense: every time the effects of that action or omission impact me. And, of course, Jesus' parable of the unmerciful servant is really just an image of what he says in the Sermon on the Mount: "The measure you measure with will be measured back to you."
As I prayed over this Gospel today, I found myself remembering what Immaculee Ilibagiza said in her brief remarks after the film we saw two weeks ago, and which she elaborated even more on during a conversation at the post-screening reception. During those long weeks in hiding, slowly starving to death with seven other women as machete-bearing hordes clamored for their lives, Immaculee prayed rosary after rosary. But when she came to the "Our Father" bead, she skipped the words "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." She just couldn't forgive, so she didn't want that unforgiveness recoiling back on her through her own words! Eventually, she had the grace to realize that what she was doing was "editing" the message of Jesus. So she began to pray to be able to forgive. And her meditation on the Rosary mystery of the Crucifixion eventually allowed her to hear Jesus' own words: "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do."
Grace gave Immaculee God's perspective on sin and evil: the perpetrators do not really know what they are doing--even when they "know" exactly what they are doing--because they do not see it in the vast "cosmic" perspective beyond space and time. They do not know who it is they are harming (themselves even more than their victims) and they do not see the vastness of the world which remains completely within God's providence. Sharing God's "vision" of the people who had murdered her family and sought her own life, Immaculee said, she had a more objective awareness; she really saw them, and really saw that in the murderous frenzy that was deliberately stoked and encouraged by the government's use of the media, people truly "knew not" what they were doing. And she became able to forgive people who were in such a pitiful state.
So today I prayed with Jesus (and with Immaculee) for those whose actions or omissions have harmed me, and in some cases continue to work against my flourishing. And, truth to tell, I have to admit that many others are probably praying the same way, forgiving me 70 X 7 times.