As Jesus continued to travel through Perea on His way to Jerusalem, He gave His disciples more lessons about what it meant to follow Him. His time was growing short, and He knew these men would be the ones to carry on His message after He was gone. Part of what Christ wanted to show them was how different the leadership of His Kingdom would be from the way the religious leaders in Israel behaved. He gave them some warnings to help them understand. He said:
“‘It is inevitable that stumbling blocks should come, but woe to him through whom they come!
“‘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 cause one of these little ones to stumble.”
Consider how much attention the Lord must be paying to the ways we treat each other…and how protective He is of the vulnerable. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. All the more reason that when we are feeling drawn to sin…or when we are in a situation where someone else is sinning, we aren’t meant to go along with it:
“‘Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.
“‘And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, “I repent,” forgive him.”
Aren’t the ways of God wonderful? We are not meant to give in to sin…and we must confront it when we see it, but we are also to offer lavish amounts of forgiveness when there is repentance. Over and over again, day after day, we must continue to go through the process of addressing our issues of sin and that of others. We have to respond to their responses and discern their repentance. And we have to offer forgiveness over and over again.
When the disciples heard this, they said, “‘Increase our faith!’” They knew how tremendously hard these sayings were going to be to obey!
To this, Jesus said, “‘If you have the 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.”
“‘Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he came in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat?” Would he not rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink?” Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants, we have only done our duty.”’
In other words…it might seem to the disciples like Jesus was asking for too much. Christ was saying that He was not. The work of relationship…of choosing to protect the vulnerable, refuse sin for ourselves, rebuke our brothers and sisters who are giving into sin, and giving them room to fail and seek forgiveness over and over again…is not something we can simply choose not to do. It is an important part of showing our devoted love to Him.