When I was a girl, I had a hard time swallowing pills. It could become an ordeal for me and my mom. One of tears (on my end) and frustration (on hers). I remember standing in the kitchen with her looking at me, as I nearly hyperventilated from crying, and I am almost sure she was thinking “Lord God in heaven, why is this child making this so hard?” In my defense, this wasn’t the sweet, deliciousness of St. Joseph’s aspirin as it dissolved on my tongue. It was usually some horrific, chalky, antibiotic horse pill I had to somehow swallow over an enlarged tonsil and the crying fit I mentioned earlier. She would usually end up crushing it and putting it in my beloved Apple Jacks cereal or in a cup of juice of some kind. Thus, ending the ordeal for the moment. Looking back, I see how the longer I lingered with the pill, the bitter taste of it dissolving, made it even harder to swallow.
When hurt lingers, when betrayal happens, feelings and emotions can fester and ferment. I use the word ferment for a reason. The process of fermentation usually produces a bitter product. The nerd in me has to give the dictionary definition now: “Fermentation is a metabolic process that converts sugar to acids, gases or alcohol.” Microorganisms, such as yeast and bacteria, are the catalysts of the process. They turn what was once sweet into something sour, such as wine, yogurt or beer. When the human heart undergoes the process of becoming bitter, one catalyst may be unforgiveness.
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord when someone won’t stop doing wrong to me, how many times must I forgive them? Seven times?’” Matthew 18:21 (ERV)
Peter. Quick-tempered, quick at the mouth, and I also assume, quick to cut you off, if you crossed him, Peter. He wanted to know the “Jesus-approved” limit for forgiveness. How many times do I have to eat it when someone does me wrong and still be in your good graces, Lord? When can I stop forgiving and set it off on this person?
“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, you must forgive them more than seven times. You must continue to forgive them even if they do wrong to you seventy-seven times.’” Matthew 18:22 (ERV)
“Even if they do something wrong to you seven times in one day, but they say they are sorry each time, you should forgive them.’ The apostles said to the Lord, “Give us more faith!’” Luke 17:4-5(ERV)
I believe those answers made Peter shake his head. Peter is often portrayed as being quick to respond in the moment. Yet here, the scriptures do not detail any response on his part, even though he asked the question. I think he pondered Jesus’ response. I’m sure he thought to himself “What!?! Maybe the Son of God can be taken advantage of or walked over repeatedly and forgive but I don’t know if I can ride with him on this one?” The apostles collectively said they needed more faith to be so Christ-like to forgive repeated hurts or offences. It does take faith to forgive. The deeper the hurt, the more faith has to be relied upon. For God does not tell us to do anything which we cannot do, with his help (Phil 4:13).
And oftentimes, the person who needs to be forgiven most is the one reflected in the mirror.
The night of the Last Supper, Jesus tells his apostles before the night is over, they will all be “offended” (lose their faith) because of what happens to Him. Peter, true to form, responds quickly to refute the statement of an already, all-knowing Jesus.
“But Peter said unto him, ‘Although all shall be offended, yet will not I.’” Mark 14:29 (KJV)
Somehow he believed his devotion to Jesus greater than that of his counterparts. He holds to this belief even after Jesus informs him of how he would deny Him, three times, before the dawn. He even gets annoyed that Jesus would even say such a thing and proclaims he would never deny him and would die with him (Mark 14:30-31). Not so.
“…I’m sure this man was with him, because he is from Galilee. But Peter said, ‘Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!’ Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. Then the Lord turned and looked into Peter’s eyes. And Peter remembered what the Lord had said…Then Peter went outside and cried bitterly.” Luke 22:59-62 (ERV)
When I read those scriptures and try to imagine how low Peter felt when Jesus looked at him, it’s visceral for me. The disappointment. The hurt. The insult to injury. Peter saw the miracles, sat at His feet, listened to His teaching, ate with Him, knew His momma, and gave up everything to follow Him. He knew who Jesus was — “…Thou art the Christ.” (Mark 8:29) Nonetheless, on the hardest night of Jesus’ life, when Peter felt afraid for his own life, he turned his back on Jesus. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) With his quick words, just a few hours prior, Peter felt for sure he could live this verse. However, with His actions, in the coming hours, Jesus would embody the verse for Peter, you and I.
Because Peter knew who Jesus was, I believe he also knew he would be forgiven of his actions. The harder part would be forgiving himself. And isn’t that usually the hardest part for us? It’s hard to forgive others, yes, but we don’t have to deal with others 24/7. When you can’t escape, for even a moment, the person who needs to be forgiven, the person ALWAYS looking back at you in the mirror and being bombarded with insidious whispers of fault and hurtful memories, I believe it is exponentially harder. Now I don’t know if mirrors were plentiful in Peter’s day, but the idea still holds true. And what I find most ironic is the person who was so concerned with putting a cap on forgiveness would have to be able to forgive HIMSELF seventy times seven, if need be.
When the women went seeking Jesus at the tomb and were told He was not there, the angel gave them information and instructions:
“…he is risen, he is not here…But go your way, tell his disciples AND Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.” Mark 16:6-7 (KJV) (Emphasis mine)
He singled Peter out from the others. He named him specifically. I think he did that for a reason. Maybe in his distress, Peter didn’t think himself worthy any longer to remain a disciple. Maybe the others thought his actions were reprehensible and he should NOT consider himself a disciple any longer. For me, it’s as if Jesus is saying “Peter I know you messed up and I STILL love you with an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). I forgive you once and for all. Forgive yourself, seventy times seven, if that is what it takes. But I know who you are. You are still the rock I will build my church on to spread my message of love, redemption and restoration.”
So, although the pill of forgiveness is not always easy to swallow, once it is, the heart can stay or return to tender. The sweet can remain or revert from a sour state. The miserable soul can be affable once again. Like the little girl scared of pills at the beginning, we just have to get it down somehow. With Apple Jacks or orange juice, you decide.