Increase our Faith (Meditation on Luke 17)
In Luke 17:5ff, the request for ‘more faith’ follows a particularly challenging demand of Jesus. (17:1-4) Jesus says that disciples must forgive offenders every time they say “I am sorry.” (Seven is the symbolic number for fullness, i.e., The Apocalypse). In light of this crazy demand, the disciples make their request. How can we do such a thing? We need more faith.
What does Jesus say? Note that Jesus says “you could say to this sycamine tree.” He is making a parable, a comparison, between unforgiveness and the tree. Why? A sycamine was a large tree, it could grow to thirty feet, with an immense root system. Because of the immense underground network, it is a hearty tree, difficult to kill and it thrives in the harsh, dry climate of the Middle East. Its fruit is a fig, similar in appearance to the Mulberry tree with one big difference. While rich people ate the sweet figs of the mulberry, the Sycamine produces a bitter fruit. It is too bitter to eat more than a nibble at a time... As such, it was the food of the poorest classes, serving to fill the belly with little taste delight. In addition, caskets were made of sycamine wood.
The symbolism is obvious. Jesus is calling unforgiveness the tree of bitterness and death. He says that if we had faith (the small speck/mustard seed illustrates that any faith at all is enough) then we could be free of this bitterness which keeps us from forgiving others. We would be free from the deep rooted resentment and anger which is only good for making caskets. We would be free from something that seems impossible to kill off.
This makes sense of what follows: the servant role. Our job is to forgive, and when we do we get no parade. Jesus expects it. Let’s walk through it. The Christian (servant of Jesus) duty is to proclaim the Gospel. What is the Gospel? It is the Good News that God’s Kingdom is breaking in among us, as SALVATION, particularly in and through the ministry of Jesus. One key component of Kingdom and Salvation is RECONCILIATION.
The catechism (p855) says: “the mission of the church is to restore ALL people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” The “each other” thing is the hard part. That is why Jesus, again and again, tells us that if we want the Father’s mercy we must show mercy to one another.
The most powerful preaching of the Gospel always begins with the words, “I forgive you.” [Whether it be a personal forgiveness or the Jesus given power to forgive sins by churchfolks....] Forgiveness is NEVER earned and never deserved; and Jesus makes that clear with His reference to “seven times a day.” If someone is hurting me seven times a day, how seriously can I take their apology???? Well, do you sin seven times a day? Sadly, I usually top seven before breakfast. SO if I am constantly sinning and telling God “sorry” perhaps I need to recognize that my apologies sound pretty weak, too.
God made a physical world, in which and through which His love and grace are made available to us in this time and place. Jesus emphasizes our role in distributing the love, mercy, and, forgiveness to the undeserving. And let’s be clear, the undeserving are also very needy. I know, I am totally undeserving and I need it so bad….
Forgiveness saves. It frees us of the debt we owe. If we believe in forgiveness we get freed. We can others. Our mission is that faith in action and it is our duty as His servant.
Believe in Forgiveness. Believe in forgiving others.
Repeat seven times a day.
(I will not be blogging the rest of this week. God bless!)