I wish there were a simple solution to the problem of forgiveness. But even Peter, who had Jesus in front of him in person on a daily basis, didn’t seem to know what Jesus would do the eighth time a brother might sin against him. Peter experiences the limits of human patience and tolerance in his own relationships. He wants to know how long a truly good person ought to put up with the abuse of his or her charity.
But Jesus refuses to consider forgiveness in terms of what’s reasonable or even humanly possible. When Jesus tells his parable about the servant forgiven a great debt, there is no discussion at all of how long to forgive someone who offends, or even how to do it, period. The emphasis in the story is not on the mechanics of forgiveness but only on the motivation. We forgive our fellow human beings, innumerable times, seven times, not because they deserve it but because we ourselves have been forgiven when our king paid the ransom.
As far as Jesus is concerned, this is the whole of forgiveness in a nutshell: Our obligation matches the largess we have received, which is incalculable. Never mind ruminating on who did what to whom and how often. Yes, there may be pain and anger and certainly there can be just cause for grievance. Jesus doesn’t argue those points. But gnawing on those components will not free us to do the one thing we are expected to do as servants relieved of all our debts, and that’s to forgive our debtors, free and clear.