One day two guys, let’s call them Mike and Pat, were walking down a road with Jesus. Pat, for reasons unknown, slides closer to Mike and trips him. Mike sprawls face first on the gravel and gains a nasty road rash on his right elbow. “Why’d do that,” Mike sputters as he lifts himself from the road.
“I don’t know what came over me. I won’t do it again, please forgive me.” Pat responds while helping Mike brush off the road dust.
“It’s okay, I forgive you,” Mike confirms as they resume their journey. It doesn’t take long, less than a hundred steps, before Pat gets the urge again. Like before he moves closer to Mike and trips him. This time Mike doesn’t go completely down but land on his hands, rocks scraping into his palms. “Hey!” Mike shouts, “watch where you are going.”
“I’m sorry,” Pat pleads. “I won’t do it again, please forgive me.”
“You’re forgiven,” Mike confirms. But as they continue their journey Mike continuously glances over at Pat, measuring the distance between them. After a few hundred steps Pat pretends to stumble over a stone. Being distracted by a beautiful rose on the side of road Mike doesn’t notice Pat’s movements. The force of Pat’s pretended stumble pushes Mike into the rose’s thorns. “That’s it, get away from me!” Mike yells as he painfully extracts himself from the thorns.
“Please forgive me. I can’t help myself. I won’t do it again, I promise.” Pat pleads.
“No, three strikes and you’re out. We may be traveling in the same direction but that doesn’t mean that we have to travel together,” Mike spits back. Pat doesn’t say anything, he just stands there, hands in his pockets, looking down at nothing while he twists his shoe in the dust of the road.
“Mike you have to forgive him,” Jesus said. “Remember what I told the disciples – “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Mike sighs, “You’re forgiven but try not to do it again. Okay?”
“Okay,” Pat replies.
How many of us have counted someone out after three strikes? Or used the tired expression “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”. The standard that Jesus set in Luke 17:3-4 is seven times in a single day. I’m struck by the disciple’s response in verse 5 – “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”” (Luke 17:5, NASB95) The disciples didn’t ask for more faith when they were sent out to heal and preach with only the shoes on their feet, the staff in their hand and the clothes on their back. But Jesus’ call to radical forgiveness triggered their cry for more faith.
We often think that forgiveness is a matter of love, of mercy, of grace, of justice, or of obedience, and to some degree, it is all of these things. But, forgiveness is really a matter of faith. Faith that God forgives us and faith that God will continue his work in the other person’s life. The world often uses forgiveness as a means of putting someone in their debt. Christ followers forgive into order to remove the bitter chains of offense that bind both the offender and the offended. Jesus describes this kind of faith, the faith that the disciples were asking to be increased, as being like a mustard seed. It’s the kind of faith that just forgives as a natural part of its being; just like a mustard seed grows to become a mustard plant as a natural part of its being. With this kind of faith, an offense as large and stubborn has a mulberry tree can be uprooted and thrown into the sea of forgiveness and forgetfulness.
“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:3–6, NASB95)