By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 17:1-10
1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And 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.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
Jesus tells us that if a fellow follower of Christ sins, we are to rebuke him, and if he offers repentance, we are to forgive. It would be easier if we could just rebuke those special individuals whose faults are so glaringly obvious to us and really get on our nerves, and just forgive those we like better whose love we don’t want to risk losing. Unfortunately (and isn’t this so like Jesus?), more often than not, we are called to rebuke a friend and forgive an enemy. In the first, a valued relationship is at stake, and in the second, principles and self-respect. There’s no sugar-coating it: rebuking may lose you a friend and forgiving could give someone you despise free rein to walk all over you. No wonder the disciples cry “Increase our faith!” Up until that point, they may have felt themselves equal to the task of an apostle, but this?
Yet, Jesus assures them that their faith need only be as big as the speck of a mustard seed in order to convince a deeply-rooted mulberry tree to move to a place it never would have gone. Faith may require that in order to truly love our friends, we have to uproot complacency and rebuke a wrong. It may require forgiving a fellow disciple who is so irritating, so seemingly wrong about everything, but may be genuinely reaching out to establish relationship through repentance. Jesus never promised that the way of the cross would be the way of dignity; rather, it often involves humiliation after humiliation. And yet, in the depths of humiliation, we find love and yes, strangely, joy. We must be willing to replant ourselves wherever God calls us to be. It may mean leaving firm ground and feeling a little bit at sea.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Today we pray for:
Diocese of Saldanha Bay (Southern Africa), the Rt. Rev. Raphael Hess
Diocese of Duk (South Sudan), the Rt. Rev. Daniel Deng Abot
Christ & St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, New York, New York