Luke 17:1-6 (NIV) Jesus said to his disciples: "Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. So watch yourselves. "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you.
“Increase my faith!” is the eternal cry of the disciple. Who among us could use some more of that? I know I could. Speaking in terms of faith, we often look to appropriate it in times of crisis management, but taken in context here it is about relationship. The King James Version refers to the “things that cause people to sin” in this passage as “offenses.” How often are we “offended” and respond with sin? How many times has that middle finger shot up in traffic (or at least the thought of it) exalting itself above all grace? How many times has our response to someone’s snippy comment been short, terse or even hateful? Or, how many times are we frustrated with another’s sin to the point of our own failure? Dam the pain. Damn that hurts. These days, instead of saying “that’s gonna leave a mark,” I’ve started saying “that’s gonna leave a Luke (17).”
Jesus revealed something to me in these few verses that I think may help in my struggle to deal with others when offended. I have a love hate thing going on with this revelation. I love that the Holy Spirit responded to my request for communion. I hate what it may cost to respond to that revelation appropriately. I thought He said His burden was light? I am amused and amazed at what scripture refers to as “light” here and here. Matters of the spirit are often heavy to the flesh.
So what I learned from this small passage is a large enterprise, a project that took me from the comfort zone to the danger zone. My first thought is that I don’t want to be the person with a millstone around my neck. More importantly, yet selfishly secondarily, I don’t want to be an offense to others, well, most of the time. So the admonition is to watch myself. What I love about Jesus is his tendency toward grace. Notice that in his next breath he encourages us to rebuke, then forgive the one who repents and do so repeatedly.
I literally laughed out loud when I read the disciples’ response. It was as if they were saying, “if you’re going to require me to do that (rebuke and/or forgive), then I’m going to need some more of that (faith). I really understand that there is this hesitancy to do either. We are uncomfortable with rebuke because we know our need for grace. We are disinclined to grace because we know others “need” for judgment. I’m uncomfortable with both, but grace seems easier for some in light of the truth of James 3:2 which says, “We ALL stumble in MANY ways.” So who can stand under that sort of scrutiny? Well, me. I have this unwavering conviction that who better to tell a drunk to quit drinking than say, a drunk? If a crack whore is screaming at her kids to stay off crack she might have perspective on that, hypocrisy notwithstanding.
The most difficult offense for me to bear is the one that is inflicted on those closest to me. My friend Greg, whom I love dearly, says that people don’t offend us we simply choose to pick up the offense and super-glue it to our shoulders. I don’t disagree wholeheartedly, but I also think the offense can creep up on us unsuspectingly and attach itself like leech on Humphrey Bogart. As we slog through the swamps of society’s murky waters, inevitably the life-sucking offense will show up looking for blood. Hopefully we can offer up some of His blood as recipients of His transfusion in our lives. This is not my strength.
Because I tend toward the rebuke Greg has referred to me as the Holy Spirit’s side-kick in the Justice League. This was part of an ongoing discussion which drew out of me what I see as the difference between “offense” and “cause.” I said that I think others feel I’m taking up someone else’s offense when in reality I’m taking up their cause. My example: If a woman is raped, that is the offense. Bringing the rapist to justice becomes the cause. It will take flawed individuals to bring this flawed person to justice for “offending” the flawed victim. The biggest flaw of all would be not pursuing the rapist because of some misguided “judge not” principle and all of the other flaws in the equation. To suspend the activities of the Justice League because of a snag in their spandex would be a travesty in my world. Tim powers activate!
The offense will come, and some will take root just like the mulberry tree. There are some very interesting points to note regarding that type of tree. In my home state of Texas the “fruitless” mulberry is common. Not pleasing to the eye, it can be invasive crowding out lawn grasses, and is known as an undesirable “volunteer.” So many of those qualities apply to the offense, but Jesus said if we have faith as a mustard seed, we can speak to it, uproot it and have it planted (phuteuo derived from phuo) in the sea. What the original language here implies in the term “planted” is for the tree to return to its original seed form from which it germinated. What a lovely picture of the Kingdom of Grace.
Another interesting point is the “speaking” to the tree; isn’t that how most offenses are delivered, via the spoken word? So now we can take the offense that has grown from a seed to a fully matured plant that is deeply rooted in our hearts, and apply our faith by speaking to it (faith comes by hearing). We can uproot the thing that has been blown out of proportion by allowing our faith to grow in its place, and then we transplant the now seed-form offense into an environment in which it cannot grow (the salty sea).
Beloved, we are spoken of in scripture as salt (Matt 5:13) and water/sea (The Revelation 4:6; 19:6). If we submit our offenses to brothers and sisters in the Lord so they can help us get perspective of anything blown out of proportion, then we can put it in its proper place. But, as my buddy Chad puts it “don’t let your meeting become the ‘fellowship of the offended’ or the reason you come together.” We must find the redemptive place and dive deep. The salt of the earth friends input can be the pre-emergent to keep an offense from re-emerging. Sowing the wrong seed in the right salt can bear good fruit from the Son. Then - just add a little mustard to it.