Is it possible to forgive 77 times?

When I was at daily Mass recently, the Gospel recounted the time Peter goes up to Jesus with a trick question. Let me quote from the account so I don’t get accused of making this up or perpetrating fake news, or even worse, fake Bible stories:

Peter: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother (or sister) who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus: “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”

Sometimes I wonder whether St. Matthew recorded everything exactly as it occurred because I suspect he left out a portion of that exchange, which might have gone something like this:

Peter: “How many times should I forgive?”

Jesus: “Seventy-seven times.”

Peter: “Easy for you to say, you’re not married.” To which I would add, “And you don’t have kids.”

We know Peter was married because Jesus cured his motherin-law of a fever. However, there are no accounts of his wife saying, “Aren’t you spending a lot of time with that fellow Jesus and your friends?”

Plus, we have no record of whether there was a Peter Jr., who took over the family fishing business when Peter left it all behind to follow Jesus. (Raising kids is a challenge unlike any other.)

When I asked my wife about forgiving 77 times, she insisted she’s reached at least the 777 mark … and enough is enough.

Who can forgive the same person that many times? In marriage, you’re with the same person so much it comes down to either forgiving and moving on or harboring a grudge that only festers and turns into a resentment that can inhibit the spiritual growth of your relationship, which I’ve been told is what marriage is all about, even though it can be difficult to make progress on some days.

Marriage reminds me of the line alcoholics in AA often use: “We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.” To which my spouse would probably respond: “Then progress a little faster please.”

One of my friends had grandparents who were notorious for bickering, and when they celebrated their 60th anniversary, she asked them, “What’s the secret to staying married so long?” Without looking up from his newspaper, her grandfather grumbled, “Giving in.” Wiser words were never spoken.

My friend Ann, who was married 70 years, when her beloved husband Paul passed away, has often told me there’s a simple dynamic when it comes to marital disputes: Someone has to give in first. Of course, if both people refuse to give in, there will be a worse stalemate than the U.S.Soviet relations during the Cold War.

Remember that tremendously popular tear-jerker “Love Story” with Ryan O’Neal and Allie McGraw back in the 70s, based on the bestseller by Erich Segal? It popularized the smarmy line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” It sounds very profound, but I have my doubts.

Pope Francis turned that logic on its head when he told married couples the three most important words in any marriage are “Please, thanks, and sorry.”

(Of course, that’s easy for him to say. He’s never been married. At least St. Peter knew what he was talking about.)

Nevertheless, the pope’s advice is valuable for anyone who wants their marriage to last. He also wisely advised them never to go to bed without reconciling.

Another piece of AA wisdom that’s worth remembering is the slogan “A day at a time.” With marriage and parenthood, it’s the only way. The quarrel that had you angry with each other one day you probably won’t even remember in a month.

The Gospels never tell us whether St. Peter had kids. I like to think he had a son who took over the family fishing business when Dad left to follow Jesus. Imagine this exchange between father and son:

Peter: “The catches are down since you took over. I have a church to run, and I can’t keep my eye on you all the time.”

Peter Jr.: “Dad, I’m working as hard as I can. I never asked for this. Show a little forgiveness, will ya?”

Peter: “Forgiveness? I’ve been counting. You’re way past 77 times.”

Peter Jr.: “I am? Well, all I can say to you is ‘What would Jesus do?’”