Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. 3 Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying, ‘I repent,’ you shall forgive him.”
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
6 So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Jesus talks about offenses in one breath in this passage, forgiveness in the next, and then follows it up with a lesson from a mulberry tree’s roots. He in fact then goes on to talk about a servants’ time, but you’re just going to have to wait for next week to get my thoughts on that one. 😉
For now, I want to look at this passage in the light of current events. In my church, we’ve been working through Luke in the sermon series, and this just happened to be the chapter for this week. But man, again, I can’t call that a coincidence. These verses hit home with me, and they hit HARD.
“It is impossible that no offenses should come.” We’re seeing them now, aren’t we? Offenses all around us, people causing each other to sin, to stumble, to lose faith. This is an inevitable part of the human nature—we’re going to upset each other, hurt each other, and influence each other in negative ways. We’re going to…but that doesn’t make it excusable.
That doesn’t mean that I should jump to the defense of those who have given offense. And yet that’s often our first reaction, right, when we identify with the first party more than the second? How many times have we heard (or have we done) this? We hear something negative about a politician, a church leader, a police officer, a teacher—someone like us or behind whom we’ve put our support—and our gut reaction is “No, that can’t be right. Or they had good reasons.” And then, because our emotions have already decided that they’re in the right, we seek evidence to back that up…whether they’re really right or not.
We forgot that One with whom we should really identify already warned us against this. “Woe to him through whom they come.” We forget that Jesus never once in Scripture sided with the authorities. Never. Once. He never supports the status quo. He never says that The Way Things Are are good enough. No, He turned over money-changing tables in the temple courtyard, rooted out injustice and corruption, and let His heart be moved by compassion for those whom society wanted most to forget.
Is that what we do though, we Christians? Or do we instead ignore that offense has even been given? My friends, I’ve been as guilty of this as the next person. Again, it’s human nature. It’s what we do on a basic level, subconsciously, without even realizing it. We support Those Like Us. It’s that tribal nature coming out.
But there comes a time when we have to stop doing that. When we have to #BeBetter than our natures. When we have to remember that Jesus made us someone new, someone who can rise above that. And that Jesus expects us to identify with the downtrodden, not the leadership. The sick, not the keeper of the medicine. The broken, not the strong-arm.
Why, though? Because—this should come as no surprise to anyone—power corrupts. Power has corrupted in America, and not just politicians. We have systems in place that train people to act in wrong ways. That offend.
I think we’re seeing the “woe to them” part of that right now, and it makes me so, so sad to watch. So many people are hurt on so many levels. So many communities are desperate for change.
And so many people “like me” are so busy defending the offenders who are “like us” that they can’t see the offense.
Or maybe…maybe it’s just too hard to fix it. Maybe they get glimpses of the wrongs done, but find it easier or more in line with their emotional wants to deny it than to do the work.
But how many times can we wrong people before they give up? And that’s when the offender sees the wrong they’ve done and apologizes for it! I pray my minority brothers and sisters can forgive me for the times I haven’t seen, haven’t understood, haven’t even given a thought to hurts inflicted on their communities by people “like me.” I never meant to hurt them—as I said last week, I want equality…and thought wanting it was enough. I hope that when I ask them to forgive me, they will. That they’ll see intention. But it’s significantly harder to forgive those who don’t ever ask for it. Who insist they’ve done nothing wrong.
Oh Lord, increase our faith. Increase their faith.
Because that is the only way we can dig out those roots of resentment, of offense, of injustice, of prejudice.
We have a mulberry tree on our property that had died, so my husband cut it down. But cutting it down didn’t get rid of the stump. And it didn’t get rid of the roots. Are you familiar with mulberry trees? Their roots go DEEP. I’m talking DEEEEEEEEP.
You can’t dig them out by your own strength. A shovel won’t work. Elbow grease won’t work. Persistence won’t work.
It takes something more than that.
To turn it back to the analogy…it takes faith. The kind of faith that starts as something tiny, but which grows and multiplies and becomes huge—so huge others can rest in it and take shelter under it.
That’s the only way we can dig out those roots of offense, of sin. Faith, my friends.
That’s the only way we can #BeBetter.
I want to see healing come to this land. Do you?
Do we REALLY? Knowing that healing requires cleansing the very roots of the infection? Knowing that it’s hard work, that it’s long, that sometimes it requires treatments that are painful? Are we willing to do the work?
I’ll be honest—I don’t know what it looks like. I don’t know what God might require of us. I don’t know how hard it’ll be to keep it up when these protests fade away and routine takes over. But I do know that that’s where the test really comes.
I’m praying for spiritual eyes to see the problems around us and wisdom to know how to act to fix it. And I pray you’ll help me plant my mustard seed of faith and water it so it can grow.
We can change our world, my friends. But not on our own, equipped with only shovels. We need Him.
I’ve started an email group called #BeBetter, where we can support each other with daily prayer, share our stories, ask our questions, and seek encouragement. I don’t honestly expect a ton of people to join, but I hope you do. I hope that together we can seek and find small ways to effect real change.