3 Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. 4 Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Jesus told his disciples that, in his kingdom, they needed to be ready to forgive someone, even seven times in the same day if that were necessary. (In Matthew 18:21-22, he told them they needed to forgive either “seventy-seven” or “seventy times seven” times.) That sounded awfully hard, so the disciples cried, “Increase our faith.” But Jesus said faith isn’t a matter of “size.” Any faith can produce big changes in our hearts and lives.
Lord, in some ways, “increase my faith” could leave it up to you to change me while I wait passively. Instead, I trust you to guide me while I steadily seek to grow more like you every day. Amen.
As in today’s passage, Jesus liked to use hyperbole to add emphasis to an argument. We Dads tend to use exaggerations to make points to our sons, like “Are you trying to air-condition the whole neighborhood?” or “It looks like a small grizzly bear has been foraging in the kitchen.” Or “When I was a kid, I didn’t even know there were more than two kinds of sneakers.” So, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Jesus heard His Dad using hyperbole as well:
So, like a good Son, Jesus is taking after His Dad with some exaggerated statements to make sure His listeners get His point. This is especially true when the topic is forgiveness, like today’s verse that if a brother asks for forgiveness 7 times, we should forgive 77 times. What might Jesus mean?
I think we can quickly rule out Jesus creating yet another overly legalistic process for His children to obey. This would tend to just give us permission to hold on to our grudge/spite for an even longer period of time. (So we can go ahead & delete that Excel spreadsheet tracking our forgiveness records.) I would submit that Jesus would rather we strive to develop a heart for forgiveness. But what might that look like?
This past Sunday afternoon in our small group of adult volunteers for CORis (Resurrection’s Youth Choir), we reviewed the life of the disciple James. James is the older brother of John & one of the elite Apostles. In Luke 9:51-56, while on the road to Jerusalem, Jesus sends an advance team to prepare for his visit to a Samaritan village. The villagers did not welcome them. James & John are furious. They wanted to call fire down from heaven to destroy the village. Jesus rebukes the brothers & He continues on His way.
Flash forward 15 years or so later. James is the 1st Apostle to be martyred & the only Apostle’s death recorded in Scriptures. Legend has it that during his trial before King Herod, a witness testifies against James. James offers his faith story as his defense. That witness is so moved by James’ testimony that he comes to believe & asks James to forgive him. As he is being led to his execution, James forgives the man saying, “Peace be with you.”
What a contrast. James is ready to rain fire down on anyone slighting his faith in one scene & then later offers grace to the man whose testimony directly leads to his own martyrdom for his faith. What might have happened during these 15 years? I would submit that James learned from Jesus the freedom offered by forgiveness.
Perhaps we could do likewise. Instead of furiously recalling every verbal slight from the playground (Four eyes? Seriously? That’s all you got?), or bitterly clinging to anger when a colleague does not agree with your hot take on current events (What do you mean Patrick Mahomes isn’t the most exciting quarterback ever?), or imagining an elaborate plot of revenge on that person who unjustly cut in line at the car rental counter in Houston, what if we copied our friend James & just forgave?
Imagine a life free of grievances, resentments, & spite. Why, that’d be like a life as free as a high schooler who just found out tomorrow’s AP-Calculus exam had been postponed.
Now, if you’ll excuse me I need to verify that, “Yep, my room is clean,” means more than, “A path has been cleared from the door to my bed.”
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