1 Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. 2 It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Luke 17:1-5
Amen. Isn’t that what you want to add to the dialogue between Jesus and his followers? Jesus directly challenges them twice. He tells them, “Don’t be the reason that someone else stumbles in their faith, or else!” and “You must forgive a repeat offender as many times as they request forgiveness.” At this point, all the disciples can muster is, “It is going to take an intervention on your part for this to be possible, Lord.” At least, that is basically what they say. If we could hear their inner thoughts, I am guessing that they might sound more like, “Yeah, right.”
Let me explain my confidence in knowing their thoughts. I am the youngest of four children. I had a great childhood, in spite of what I am about to write. Growing up, I was always the one who got blamed. My brother would convince me to do something stupid – “No, really Scott, it is so great to hit your Matchbox cars with a hammer. Wait until you see it.” – and then I would get in trouble for it. (I know that all you older sibling are thinking, “Cue the violins.”) This happened all the time. When I hear Jesus telling the disciples to forgive a brother or sister as often as they apologize, I think of being the youngest child. My head says that Jesus must be right. My heart says that the siblings will be up to the same business tomorrow and forgiveness is just license.
And think, that is just sibling fun. Now we have to translate this for the adult audience, where the pain is much deeper and the reality much more harsh. Forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is very hard. In fact, left to ourselves, it is impossible. That’s why I added my amen to the disciples response. The only way to accept the challenges that Jesus lays before the disciples is if he makes a way. “Increase our faith!” the disciples say. Jesus answers, “I will.” He never issues a challenge without empowerment. He never asks us to do more than he will provide strength to accomplish. The response must become our prayer. The prayer must be uttered constantly, “It is going to take an intervention on your part for this to be possible, Lord. Increase our faith.” Then we are exactly where such transformation can take place.