Peter: The Faith of

Forgiveness Forged in

the Furnace of Guilt

Peter never did do anything halfway! Anything that he
was into, he was into with both feet: in the boat, in the
water, sometimes even in his mouth! This is exactly where
we find Peter in our story today: mouth wide open and
both feet in it again, much to his chagrin! But that seemed
to be just fine with his beloved Master, because Jesus
understood that it is those very things we gag on when we
try to take them in, that we’ll be least likely to forget. (You
may not remember every remedy your mother gave you as
a child, but I’ll venture to say you’ve never forgotten the
ones you found the most unpalatable!). As co-creator of
mankind, and now Redeemer of the fallen version, the
Lord had come to terms with the difficulty of pounding
square truths down round esophagi. So he rose to Peter’s
challenge that was no doubt intended to impress him.

“How many times must we forgive, Lord? Seven?” This
particular remedy might prove particularly unpalatable to
Peter, but it was, of all the Lord’s prescriptions for piti-
ful, poisoned mankind, the most imperative. For without
this crucial antidote to the enemy’s toxins of hatred and
vengeance, there could be no healing of human souls, no
binding up of broken hearts, no castration of the conta-
gious curse that had contaminated entire generations, pass-
ing between and through them, as his Father had warned
them that it would.2 This was, of all the medications he
could administer for humankind’s terminal illness, the most
imperative to be taken regularly and in large doses. Like
a physician’s written prescription, forgiveness would avail
nothing if not taken until finished. That must be each per-
son’s part in the healing of his body, mind, and soul. If one
would not take all of this “miracle cure” for himself, God
would not give him a pleasant placebo to mask the symp-
toms of his suffering when he had prescribed the ultimate
cure for the critical condition—the cure that would bring
the contagion to a halt, and heal every sin-sickened soul
who faithfully followed the prescription.

Those inscrutable eyes of the physician of souls, now
fixed on Peter’s, seemed to be asking, “Are you ready for
this, Peter?” The Lord knew that he was about to entrust
the “ultimate cure” for the human condition to a man
most likely to choke on his words. After all that Peter
had seen his Master perform—the healings and feed-
ings, raisings and rousings—Peter believed that he was
ready for anything! This Jesus, he was convinced, was the
Messiah, and there was nothing Peter would not do to be
his right-hand man! So, ears, mouth, and feet at the ready,
Peter leaned forward to catch the pronouncement that he
thought he was prepared to hear:

“Not seven times, Peter, but seventy-seven times!”
——-Loooong Pause——-

“That’s it, Lord? Your answer to all the acrimony, the
agony, and anguish of humanity? We should forgive our
enemies, not once, or even seven times, but … ” There
was an undeniable choking quality to Peter’s voice again,
accompanying that boyish expression of incredulity that
so endeared this hulking man of bluff and bluster to his
rabbi. The one Peter called Lord and Master knew that
this meant he had again succeeded in stretching Peter’s
“growing edge” to its limit.

For his part, Peter could not hide his disappointment
and chagrin. He had expected something profoundly com-
plex, but ultimately possible—not something so exces-
sively simple, but seemingly impossible. For Peter, this
prescription for the cure of all the suffering that plagued
mankind had all the practicality of decreeing decapita-
tion for a headache! “Surely,” he reasoned to himself, “the
Master knew the hearts of men well enough to know that
forgiving those who mistreat, misuse, and misrepresent
us, would only encourage and promote their sinfulness,
inviting their continuing to attack with impunity. Besides,
wrong is wrong! Is the Master saying we should not con-
tend against it? That we should not resist evil and defend
ourselves against it?”

In all fairness, we should note that Peter was not alone
in his befuddlement over this latest disclosure of what
might be called the bylaws of the Lord’s newly-estab-
lished Kingdom of God on earth. As the entire company,
reluctant to expose their individual reservations, looked
to each other for some hint of meaning or support in
their confusion, they hoped Peter would once more take
it upon himself to speak up on their behalf. Exchanging
only shrugs and shaking heads, they hoped that perhaps
they had misunderstood. Surely a correction, or at least an
explanation, was forthcoming. “Say something, Peter!”

But Peter had made eye contact with his Master in
anticipation of the import of the words that had been spo-
ken, and he knew that the Lord had said exactly what he
meant, and meant exactly what he’d said. So Peter knew
that they would have to comprehend this incomprehensi-
ble new “kingdom operandi” that had just been entrusted to
them, or else throw in with Judas, who had begun express-
ing growing disillusionment with their Master, and disgust
with the impracticality of his so-called “kingdom of God.”
In short, Peter was nonplussed, flabbergasted, and unchar-
acteristically quiet as he turned the words in the churn of
his mind, hoping that something palatable might congeal
out of this latest conundrum the Lord had proposed. Jesus
just let him churn while anyone looking him full in the face
could have seen him struggling to hide the smile that tried
to play at the corners of his eyes and mouth.

Was there some weird working of the wiles of the
wicked that would cause them to repent once forgiven
that many times? Humph! Might a man not run out of
resources before he could forgive a thief that many times?
For all his intense desire to come up with an understanding
of the Master’s words, Peter came up short, until, finally, a
hope began to dawn as he remembered that sometimes the
Lord used words metaphorically or rhetorically rather than
literally—like when he spoke of removing the log in one’s
own eye so you can see to critique the speck in another’s
eye, and becoming “as little children” to enter the kingdom
of heaven. That must be it! Ready, set, mouth open, and
both feet into the broad jump! Peter spoke up hopefully:
“You don’t mean that we should take your words quite
literally, do you, Lord?” The smile ran for quick cover
behind the tightening jawbone of God incarnate. Both his
demeanor, and the parable that followed, made it quite clear
that he intended for this principle to be as fixed as his own
gaze as he began to tell them a story.It was a tale about one
man who had spent a lifetime accruing indebtedness to his
master, pleading for and receiving mercy, not for a mere por-
tion of it, else his punishment would still be in force, but for
its entirety. Then the same man turned to enforce the law
of debtors’ prison against his own servant for a much lesser
amount, whereupon the master revoked the pardon he had
granted and consigned him to that prison for his ingratitude.

The Lord was serving notice that forgiveness was to be both
the essence and criteria of mercy in his kingdom!
He left it to those who would follow the prescription
to learn for themselves the far-reaching curative affects of
its repeated application. For he knew something that only
those who would obey it could discover for themselves:
The truth that, just as injury inflicted by any party in a  
position to misuse, abuse, and persecute a victim, is laid
down in that person’s life in layer upon layer, building up
calluses, welts, and scars within his or her heart and soul,
so forgiveness must be a many-layered thing, lancing,
draining and healing those wounds, down to their deepest
core. Otherwise, the part he was to play in the restoration
of such souls would be a travesty of healing, so that even
his impending death on their behalf, though it would save
their still-born souls from hell, it would not restore their
lives to wholeness. Nor would it deliver embittered, hard,
and hostile hearts from the grip of hatred to love for his
grieving Father. Crises like this stung him anew with that
same old pinion of pain he had shared with his Father in
heaven over the loss of all his children. It wrenched him
back to that age-old resolve for which he had come: not
merely to save souls from hell, but to restore them to their
original estate as children of his own beloved Abba.

Once again there issued forth from the depths of that
Spirit that was infinitely older than the universe, and tem-
porarily encapsulated within a human breast, that groan
of anguish that echoed still in Eden: “When I, as Son of
Man, return, will I find faith upon the earth?” If mortally
wounded human beings would not, for their part, submit
to the lancing, the draining, and cleansing of the deepest
layers of their wounds, pouring forth, i.e., “forgiving” the
shards of shrapnel, the poison, and the perpetrators them-
selves over to the great Forgiver, how could he vouchsafe
to them his part, the building of new life? How could they
receive renewed minds, restored souls, and healthy hearts,
among the gangrenous, proud flesh of their putrefying
souls? Could living tissue graft onto dead? Could restored
souls put down viable roots into hardened hearts? Could
his own Spirit cohabit and bond with decadence? Only if
that Holy Spirit were permitted to renovate its residence,
unquenched and uninhibited!

Had he not, time and time again, dramatically dem-

onstrated the integral connection between forgiveness and

healing and abundant life? Now, would those who had seen

the results subject themselves to the process and verify its

efficacy for themselves with enough enthusiasm to propel

it to the very end of the age, despite all the obstacles the

enemy, that loathsome loser, would throw up in its path?

Did the Creator-turned-carpenter entertain another sigh,

“Oh, Father, it was so much easier to restore damaged wood

than to renovate reluctant human hearts!”