8 November 2010

Luke 17:1-6

"If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent', you must forgive." (v.4)


In today's passage, Jesus is speaking with his disciples about sin. He appears to suggest in verse 1 that there are causes of sin in the world - "occasions for stumbling" - but he also says in the same verse that people are morally responsible if they act in such a way. But for the person who is responsible for causing temptations for others, there is a judgement (verse 2).

Verses 3 and 4 speak of the necessity of forgiveness in the Christian life. Jesus tells us to forgive "seven times". This is in deliberate contrast to the rabbis (the Jewish teachers) who had a saying that if someone forgave another three times, they were a perfect person.

But Jesus takes this much further, by doubling the amount and adding one. He does not literally mean that we are to forgive seven times, but unlimited times. The greater number heightens the force of the saying.

In the final verses of the passage, the disciples ask Jesus to "increase our faith". Jesus' response about the mustard seed and the mulberry tree reveals that even a tiny amount of faith can do miraculous things.

We cannot forgive in the way Jesus teaches us to unless we have the resources of faith to do so. Jesus does not invite us to become magicians and ask trees to plant themselves in the sea, but to emulate those of the past whose faith enabled them to achieve wonderful and awe-inspiring things (eg Hebrews 11).

To Ponder

Does forgiveness come easy to you? What has stopped you from forgiving in the past? What can you say to God about this?

Where is your faith at the moment?

Bible notes author

The Revd Richard Teal

Richard Teal is a Methodist minister currently serving as chair of the Cumbria Methodist District. He has a deep interest in ecumenical relationships, Church growth and liturgy.