Christ's Teaching on Faith, Forgiveness, and Mercy
(And, how they all work together for the benefit of everyone)
(Luke chapter 17, verses 1-19)
For this week’s installment of our ongoing study of the writings of the apostle Luke, we find ourselves moving on to chapter 17 of his version of the Gospel. When we left off last week, Jesus was expounding on his story of Lazarus and the rich man, and the folly of the pursuit of riches and 'prosperity'. He also made it known that worship of false gods – like material goods, fame and “the good life” would only come to an end with the eternal condemnation of that person. Today we again find Jesus and his apostles in a teaching session, which is apparently in a different time and place than the end of chapter 16, but presumably soon after. So let's all begin right from the top.
“Jesus said to his disciples, 'Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.. So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and say, 'I repent', forgive him.'” (Luke 17, verses 1-4)
In what ways could one cause someone else to sin? This goes far deeper than the usual definitions of people being misled into sinning through deception, or by being enticed with money in exchange for anything ranging from false testimony all the way up to contract murder. Notice Jesus words – “It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.” People sin, everybody does, it's just a fact of life. Sin is defined as anything we do or say that is against the will of God. Acknowledging our sinful nature to Jesus and to ourselves is the first step towards becoming his follower, and for the redemption of our sins, even our very souls.
No one can attain eternal salvation in and through Jesus Christ without first doing those two things. But notice Jesus also said, “cause one of these little ones to sin”. This means anybody who misleads or pressures children into doing wrong, that sin will fall on the adult's head while the child will be spared by the Lord because he/she was an abuse victim. Children have been sold into slavery, mostly sex slavery but also as child laborers, for the entire history of humankind. So Jesus was also referring to all those children when he spoke those words all those centuries ago.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” Since we all want to be forgiven for our sins, we must first forgive others for theirs. How can we pray for forgiveness and give thanks to Jesus for dying on the cross and shedding his blood for us if we still hold grudges against others, or if we refuse to let go of old hurts and offenses? If your brother/sister sins against you 7 times and comes to you asking to be forgiven 7 times and repents each time, we have a moral obligation to forgive each person because Jesus first forgave us. When he made his Supreme Sacrifice on the cross by dying and being buried for only 3 days as a payment to God the Father for our many sins, that constituted all the forgiveness we will need for our entire lifetimes. Moreover, since we must be willing to forgive, we must be equally determined not to judge others even if they insult or otherwise offend us. Like it or not, this is Christian living as it was truly meant to be.
There are some believers who would respond, “But the Bible says that when we see evil we should expose it!” (see Ephesians 5, verses 8-14) What they don't understand (or don't want to see, take your pick) is that this is taking those verses out of context. The apostle Paul wrote those words as exposing evils out in the world, but Jesus said, “If your brother sins...”, meaning brothers within the church. It is a good thing to expose evil, but that doesn't mean we are supposed to turn into an army of tattle-tales and snitches. So let the distinction between the two be absolutely clear. And now let's move on to part 2 of today's lesson.
“The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith!' He replied, If you can have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it will obey you. Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant who comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are only unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'” (Luke 17, verses 5-10)
Jesus was telling the apostles they had a long way to go to understand what true faith actually was, and the intrinsic nature of it. To get a feel for what Jesus was saying, try going outdoors and (after looking around in case there is someone nearby with a camera or phone) walk up to the nearest tree and tell it to go jump in the ocean! This is essentially what Jesus meant, but much of the flavor of the original meaning has gotten lost in the sandstorm of time.
Jesus was explaining to his apostles why he used the example of the uprooted tree. 'Since I have this level of faith and you guys are not even close to being there at this point in your walk with me, do not expect me to do any special favors for you just because I am the Messiah', That is very close to exactly what Jesus meant right here. You are my apostles, Jesus was saying, but you are still my servants. Jesus didn't owe the apostles a thank-you every time they served the crowds that he attracted like a magnet to steel. They should not expect any special accolades, Jesus told them plainly, for their service to the Son of God, because God doesn't play favorites. Moreover, the apostles' reward was not of this world, but the next. As true followers of Christ, we should expect much the same. Work for Jesus without expectation of repayment. God believes in unconditional equality and so should we. And now let's conclude this week's study starting at verse 11.
“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men with leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us!' When he saw them he said, 'Go, show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go, your faith has made you well.'” (Luke 17, verses 11-19)
Samaria was located in what we now call the West Bank area around the Jordan river just a few miles from the Sea of Galilee. So, the Bible recounts the time when 10 men with leprosy met Jesus on the road to Galilee. Because they had leprosy, a hideous and contagious skin disease, they did not speak to him face to face, but only called from a distance asking for healing for their afflictions. “Go and show yourselves to the priests”, Jesus told them. Jesus had already given them an affirmative answer and it manifested itself so that all 10 men were healed on their way to the Temple (presumably the Temple at Jerusalem, although there were many more than just the one). Yet only one of them had the good sense to come back and personally thank Jesus for his healing, and thank him he certainly did.
“He threw himself at Jesus feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?'” Samaritans and Jews hated one another, mainly because the Jews thought they were much too good to associate with 'inferior' (in their view) Samaritans. In modern times, this would be equivalent to an American Jesus healing 10 “illegal immigrants”, only to have just one come back to thank him. Or, ten gang members from the roughest parts of any major metropolitan area, and so on. In other words, it was amazing that any of them came back and thanked Jesus, who was himself a Jewish man.
This is a shining example of the mercy and grace of the Son of God. Jesus wants to heal all who are afflicted, no matter what it is, regardless of race, creed, nationality, religion, sexual orientation, age or gender, or economic status. Embrace him! Embrace, don't merely “accept” Jesus like they say on “Christian TV”, as if we're doing Him a favor. It is Jesus who wants to do you a ‘favor’ by scrubbing your soul with His blood until it’s shiny white. And, unlike the other 9 Samaritans that Jesus healed, let's all be sure and maintain an attitude of thankfulness in our everyday living. When we look around us, we realize that we all have so much to be thankful for, up to and including our very lives. So for all this week, let's continue to have constantly thankful hearts while we shower others with mercy and forgiveness. Focusing on this makes living life so much easier, too. And next week we'll finish up chapter 17.
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