Luke 17:1-11 (Pentecost 17C)

St. John, Galveston 10/2/2022

Rev. Alan Taylor

 

+ In Nomine Jesu +

 

Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Jesus had high expectations for his disciples, and for us too. This is a common theme in Luke’s Gospel, and it comes through clearly in the reading before us this morning, from Luke 17. He instructed his disciples to not cause one of His little ones to fall into temptation. He also called on them to forgive repeatedly those who sin against them and who repent of their sin. It was a tall order, and the thing is, it seems that the disciples understood how difficult it would be for them to do the things Jesus asked of them, especially the part about forgiving those who sinned against them time and again. Their understanding of just how difficult it would be is evidenced by them making a plea to Jesus to increase their faith. 

 

Still, it seems a bit odd that when Jesus told His disciples to forgive their brother or sister when they repent of their sin, the disciples didn’t ask Him for more forgiveness, or for more compassion, or even for more patience and understanding. Rather, they asked Him to increase their faith. 

 

He then talked about the tiny little mustard seed and compared it to their faith and to ours as well. If any of you had faith as a mustard seed, He said, you could say to a mulberry tree be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you. Elsewhere in the Scriptures, He said you could do the same thing with a mountain, that is, command it to fall into the sea, and it would obey. We would have to conclude then that our faith in Jesus is always relatively small, smaller than the tiny little mustard seed. I mean, as you know, there aren’t any mountains in Galveston, but if there were, it’s doubtful that any of us would be able to move one of them into the sea by the power of our faith in Jesus.

 

So, our faith in Christ is relatively small. Still, we are His servants. As such, He expects of us what any master has the right to expect of His servants. “Will any one of you (He says) who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

 

In short, forgiveness, that is, to forgive others, is not an option for the servants of Christ. And yet, it can be exceedingly difficult for us to forgive others, so much so, that, like the disciples, we have only one place to turn, namely, to the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God in Christ Jesus. When the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, they weren’t asking Him for some magical strength to forgive, or for some formula of how to forgive, rather, they were simply asking Him to give them more certainty of their own forgiveness in Him. That’s what faith in Christ is, isn’t it? It’s trust in the mercy and forgiveness of God. It’s believing that no matter how bad you are, no matter what you have done in life that merits His wrath and condemnation, He says to you “I forgive you.” More than that, He says, He have paid the debt for your sin by giving my life for you!

 

As you know, when Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He included a petition in His prayer about forgiveness, because it is central to our lives in Him. You know it well. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Luther, in his explanation to the petition, says, “We ask in this prayer that our heavenly Father would not regard our sins nor deny these petitions on their account, for we are worthy of nothing for which we ask, nor have we earned it. Instead, we ask that God would give us all things by grace, for we daily sin much and indeed deserve only punishment. So, on the other hand, we, too, truly want to forgive heartily and to do good gladly to those who sin against us.”

 

As we seek to grow in faith and to forgive our brothers and sisters in Christ, it becomes quite evident to us that God’s Law and Gospel work in direct proportion to one another in our lives. In other words, if we see God’s Law, His condemnation of our sin, as a light and minor dissatisfaction, we will see His grace and mercy in Christ as of relatively minor importance too. Jesus said as much elsewhere in the Gospels. A woman, a sinner, as we are told, brought an alabaster jar of perfume to anoint the feet of Jesus at a dinner party. Someone at the dinner party objected to the women’s action. At which point, Jesus said, “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” It isn’t so much that the woman’s sin was greater than the sins of the others who were gathered there that day, as it was that she perceived them as such, thus she chose to give the last measure of her devotion to Jesus, because He had forgiven her so much.  And so, Jesus says, “he who has been forgiven little, loves little.” 

 

I encountered a question while I was serving on vicarage many years ago. The question was about the petition on forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer. A woman asked, does this petition mean that God won’t forgive our sins unless we forgive those who sin against us? It was a tough question, and I’m not sure exactly how I answered her that day. I was pretty stunned by the question. I mean, what exactly does the petition about forgiveness mean. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who sin against us.”

 

While I’m not sure how I answered the question then, I do know how I would answer it now. I would begin by asking, “why do you want to know?” It is God’s will that we forgive others who have sinned against us. And so, if the person asking the question about God’s forgiveness is intent on not forgiving someone else and hoping all along that God will still forgive them, a stern warning is order. Why!? Why would you expect God to forgive your sins, when you adamantly refuse to forgive the sins of others? This is, of course, a rather stern warning of the Law, but in this case, it’s quite necessary. Remember, God’s Law and Gospel work in direct proportion to one another in our lives. 

 

Again, it is God’s will that we forgive others who have sinned against us. Knowing how weak we are in that regard we are always petitioning Him to increase our faith that we might forgive others even as we have been forgiven by Him. In the midst of that struggle though to forgive others, there is nothing that will finally move us to do so but the grace of God in Christ, to see ourselves as having been forgiven so much by Christ that there is no way we can fail to forgive the transgressions of others against us. It is, after all, what servants of the master do. In that sort of situation, God graciously and continually forgives you.

 

“Thy cross, not mine, O Christ,

Has borne the crushing load

Of sins that none could bear

But the incarnate God.

To whom save Thee, 

Who can’st alone for sin atone,

Lord, shall I flee?”

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

 

+ Soli Deo Gloria +