Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against
me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not
seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
Matthew 18: 21 – 22 (NRSV)
I suppose most of us have felt guilty about something that we’ve done in the past
or something that we feel responsible for, let’s face it, that’s why we ask for forgiveness
when we pray but guilt can have other strange effects.
In Turin, Italy, an anonymous citizen wrote the tax office enclosing 10,000 Lira
in the envelope and explained he had cheated on his income tax. He said it caused
him to lose his appetite. Then he added, "If my appetite doesn't improve I'll send
Then again, William Wirt Winchester's widow Sarah built a most peculiar
mansion in San Jose, California, to help her with her feelings of remorse. It is
a house that took 38 years to build and cost of over five million dollars.
With 160 rooms it has stairways that lead to blank walls and corridors that lead
to un-openable doors, There are 13 bathrooms, 13 stair steps, 13 lights to a chandelier
and 13 windows in each room.
Her husband was the son of Oliver Fisher Winchester,
manufacturer of the famous Winchester repeating rifle. The house is referred to as
the "guilt house," and was conceived as a never-ending building project to provide
a home for spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. For some strange reason
she felt the guilt of all those deaths but instead of addressing her grief and remorse
in more traditional ways, Sarah's project occupied the rest of her life.
But that is about guilt, what about the other side of the coin, holding a grudge,
for with that should come forgiveness.
So we have sinned, or somebody has upset us, how many times should we be forgiven
or forgive others? The Greek text of Jesus saying we should forgive 77 times can
also be translated as 490 times (7 X 70) and is generally considered to mean that
providing we show real remorse for our actions we can be forgiven countless times.
But as in the case of Sarah Winchester, our remorse must be real. We don’t need
to go building weird houses but we must have the inner strength to say that we are
sorry and truly mean it. It also means, as we say in our Lord’s prayer (Matthew
6) that we must forgive others for their actions that have upset us. Oops, yes it
is difficult, but it’s true. For following the Bible passage telling us that we
can be forgiven our sins follows the parable of the unforgiving servant who whilst
pleading to be forgiven by his master, wouldn’t forgive a fellow servant and so met
his comeuppance by being handed over to the torturers until he could repay his debt.
Most certainly an underlining of that part of the Lord’s prayer.
And who knows, by forgiving somebody for their actions against ourselves, we may
help them with their guilt and prevent them from building useless houses for the
rest of their lives.
By Roger Stapenhill with more than a few ideas provided by Steve Goodier (www.LifeSupportSystem.com)