Luke 17:1-10 “Repent and Forgive”
Let us begin with the proper translation of this text, please. The first part of the message from Jesus tells us that we will stumble. The word that is here and is again repeated in the next verses is σκανδαλιζω, which is exactly as it sounds “scandal.” We are going to find ourselves tripping over scandals! We are not wearing sandals on our feet but kind of scandals. Or, here on the island we call them “slippahs” because we are always slipping up!
If you were reading the New Testament by Eugene Petersen, a modern prose version of the New Testament, you could see how he translated this idea of “stumbling block.” He uses the term “hard times.” Yes, we are all going to have hard times, scandalous moments, or however you want to put it. We are all going to slip up. I think that does not need further explanation; we surely all agree. I do not need to tell you about all the times I slipped up in my life, we can all agree it has been a whole bunch!
Jesus goes on to point out that the greater scandal, or slip up, is if we cause another lesser to stumble into sin. The word here for “little ones” in the Greek is simply μικρος which I deem to refer to those who are newer to the faith. We can call these the “micro-Christians.” Some preachers call them “baby Christians.” I like the term “Micro-Christians” better. These are people who have just been introduced to a new relationship with Jesus. There faith is budding, but not yet blossoming. When Jesus says this to his disciples, then he is obviously referring to the greater crowd in his hearing. What are the disciples of Jesus supposed to do for the new folks just coming into the faith?
It would be better for a millstone to be placed around your neck and you were to be thrown into the sea if you caused another to slip up. I have a great empathy for this idea of trying to swim with a milestone around the neck. You all know that I enjoying swimming and so much the more swimming in the ocean. Many times I have pulled things up from the bottom of the sea. I have collected goggles, facemasks, glasses, watches, various signage; I once pulled an entire tent up from the bottom of the sea. It was filled with sand. I was super happy not to find an old ex-camper's body in the tent actually!
Remember Jesus is the guy who saved his disples from drowning in the boat in the middle of a storm on Galilee. We are supposed to have faith that would allow us to walk on top of the water, not sink to the bottom.
The fact of the matter is that I believe that we were made to walk on water. John 6:16 and on tells the story of Jesus walking on the water. I often think about when people on Oahu plan meetings or appointments for us here on Kauai, expecting us to hop on a plane and rent a car and get there by ourselves, that they must think that we can walk on water. I think we can actually! We were made to rise above, so why are we sinking other people? Don't do that. Just help others to rise up to Jesus!
Now verse three is a bit contentious indeed. Jesus tells us that we must rebuke our brothers if they should sin. The word here is “brother” in the Greek. I know our NRSV pew Bibles say “disciple,” but look at that footnote at the bottom of the page! I do not like to rebuke others, but sometimes we have no choice. When we know that that person is about to stumble or has already stumbled, then we must take them aside and warn them that they are transgressing God’s Law. It is better that they get a speeding ticket than get into a crash, right? That is the way that I like to look at it.
Just this last week, the scripture really spoke to me when I had to decide with someone I care about if I should rebuke a decision she had made. She had come to me first asking for advice. When I counseled against what she was planning on doing, the reaction was “I only told you because I thought you would support the idea.” She went ahead and did it despite my counseling against it. So, if you do not like the term “rebuke,” you are welcome to say “counsel against an idea,” or “correct a person.” Somewhat implied by the Greek is “put the fear of God into that person again.” That is really what “rebuking” is; you are reminding folks that there is God and that God cares about what you are doing in this moment.
The other option that I was thinking about this last week rather than rebuking was simply walking away from the relationship. That really is the choice most of the time when we see others sinning, is it not? We either engage the person and remind of God, or we go into a broken relationship mode with that person, that may in itself be considered sinful. The option to rebuke is our best option rather than landing ourselves into more sin.
When we rebuke another, however, it is with the hope that that other person will ask to be forgiven. We call this “repentance.” A well-tuned rebuke will lead to repentance and the opportunity of the forgiveness of the transgression.
Jesus continues on to note to his disciples that if a brother transgresses 7 times in one day, then you must rebuke and seek repentance with the hope of forgiveness—how many times? 7 times in one day?
Modern conflict management techniques will tell you that if someone keeps on making the same mistake with you, and then asks again and again for forgiveness, that this is a type of pathology that must be addressed. Like the child who hits, says “sorry,” then hits six more times, each time saying “sorry,” we are not doing a favor by accepting that apology.
Repentance is more than just saying “sorry.” It is a true turning of the heart. It is putting your life straight again, if even for just that brief time before the next time of scandal or slip up. That is for us to judge with others. If one truly repents, then we are commanded by our faith in Christ, to forgive. Be ready for that. That can be the hardest thing to do. Yet, we are commanded here to forgive even up to seven times a day.
The last part of the scripture that we heard this morning relates back to the preceding text of the “Rich Man and Lazarus.” We are affirmed that we are invited to be with God in heaven. Do you recall Luke 13:29? “Then people will. . . .come and feast in the Kingdom of God.” So, a great banquet will be set before us in heaven. Now, before we get too excited about this prospect of never-ending heavenly food, what Jesus says next is critical to our participation in this feast: We are still the servants of God! Now until forever and a day we are the humble servants of the Lord. So, who is serving us this meal in heaven? We are still serving the Lord! That is our place before God.
I really love the way Jesus puts this in his talk with his disciples, and in fact if you notice he refers to them now as apostles, not disciples. That is to say that in this case they are no longer students but rather the ones tasked by God. “You servants, when you are done plowing the fields and tending the sheep (an obvious reference to doing ministry), then you will have to come and serve at table because you are indeed my servants still.
When I was in college at Cal State, I worked to pay tuition as a seafood chef. I recall once my friends inviting me to come over after my eight-hour shift to cook a meal for THEM! In a way it made sense, since I was the one who was the professional chef, yet I also resented it because of course I was tired of cooking. I will tell you once that even my home church asked me to make clam chowder for a hundred people as a fundraiser. Again, this made sense in a way.
Guess what, we do not after all the service we do for the Lord in this world get a free pass when we finally meet the Lord in heaven! We will still be his servants. My guess is that we will be serving one another up in heaven as a continuing sign of our love of God.
As pointed out by one of the Tuesday afternoon group, this is Jesus saying at the last super: "Unless you do likewise, you shall have no part in me." That was said after Jesus washed the disciples feet as they protested. The ultimate sign of service ministry.
How long has humankind been in covenant with the Lord? Are we still expecting God to fawn over us when we do what we know we ought to do anyway? Do we really expect God to give us old “chuck on the shoulder” while stating, “Thank you for not murdering your neighbor and following all the other commands!” No. We simply bow down in service. The greatest part of that service to God is to repent and to forgive others. Amen.