Reflection for 13 September 2020

I say to you seventy seven times (Matthew chapter 16v 2)

Some of us seem to be wired so as to find numbers and counting fascinating. I am one, maybe explaining my interests in Change Bell Ringing, on railway timetables, lists of telephone numbers. I really enjoy them.

Of course numbers, figures are essential in accounting. And so for determining, justifying, measuring, reviewing. We expect this in our nation, our church, our household. All this is so natural, and also western European – just like time and punctuality. Statistics may be accepted without so much as a query (though we are seeing in the Covid crisis a sign of statistic fatigue). We can therefore understand Peter’s question: ‘How many times?’ ‘As many as seven?’

We find ourselves in a new space. The realm of God. Whose ways are not our ways. Who is indiscriminate, unlimited, abounding in generous love, who has no favourites. These are not ordinary human attributes, but those of the Divine.

At the Reformation one of the principle arguments was over ‘justification’ – faith or works? Another attempt to see the impossible – the mind of God.

In parables Jesus uses extraordinary language of exaggeration to open our eyes to the unlimited love of God. Here the debt of 10,000 talents = 60 million denarii = more than a small country’s national debt is impossible to ‘pay’. And so the parable of the workers in the vineyard who grumble because they count the hours.

‘As many as seven times?’. So dare we even consider a limit on forgiveness, compassion, kindness, generosity? We are shown the way of ‘living to the Lord’ (Romans 14). And we might even wonder on the ways where we quantify life? How do we ‘measure the meaning of a life?. The Hospice movement honours every day as precious. Not the ‘last day’ of life, but another to be lived as the Day the Lord has made.

At the exchange of rings at a marriage the couple sat to each other ‘All I am I give to you.’ All – not counted and not measured.


Here today we come to receive a fragment of bread. Of no worth in some eyes, but precious to us who take and eat the living Body of the Lord. Now depart and live in fullness.



Father David Houghton