1Jesus 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."
5The 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 plowing 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 not only displayed the power and authority of the Kingdom of God, but he also showed and taught on the lifestyle of the Kingdom of God. By 'lifestyle' I mean a 'way of living'. The Kingdom of God is usually thought in terms of proclamation (preaching about the Kingdom) and demonstration (healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead). But the Kingdom of God includes another dimension: action. In particular, action-in-relation. To put it another way, the Kingdom of God is about the Good News of Jesus who brings us into the realm of his power, authority, wisdom, salvation, and love. Learning how to love God, ourselves, others, and the world is a huge part of growing in Christ. The three words in bold are linked in an overlapping fashion. If we love God, then we will live a lifestyle of loving action toward others. If we give ourselves to the lifestyle of God's Kingdom, then we will act in love toward others. Love must be shown in action. Lifestyle entails love in action.
Showing love in action, however, is not always easy. What do we do when we are wronged by someone who repents? The answer that Jesus gives is clear: forgive that person. How about if this person wrongs you again and again and asks for forgiveness again and again? Let's pick a number. How about this person wrongs you 49 times in a week (based on Jesus' math of seven per day)? Forgive the person 49 times?
My answer is 49 - 48 = 1. I will forgive the person once. I believe once is enough for one week. If someone wrongs me more than three times in a week, I seriously think that the person is out to get me. And that his or her repentance is not genuine.
I respect Jesus for many things but I do sometimes think that he exaggerates a bit. Jesus doesn't seem to be living in the "real" world. In the "real" world, no one's going to forgive a person seven times in a day. Are you kidding me? That kind of forgiveness is "unreal." (But maybe Jesus is not asking us to be "realistic." Maybe Jesus is calling us to be "unreal" if "real" is defined by how people normally respond in a sinful and hurting world. Anyway, just a thought.)
A word in the passage that I was tempted to put in bold font is 'rebuke', as in "If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender." This command is a problem, "you must rebuke the offender." In our culture, rebuking someone is a Big No-No. We have trouble with correcting someone, let alone rebuking someone. I can't remember the last time I heard someone say, "I rebuke you in the name of Jesus," which wasn't addressed to a demon. In our culture, rebuking is an alien, off-putting behavior. At best we can say something like, "I gently bring to your attention the possibility that maybe you might have said or done something which could be interpreted as 'offensive' or 'wrong' [in air quotes to indicate that we ourselves are not in strict agreement]. What do you think?" That's about as harsh as many of us will ever get. Causing offense is such a Big Sin, that we avoid loving confrontation much of the time.
Now there are some people who relish confrontation because they (a) enjoy fighting, (b) enjoy seeing someone get crushed, or (c) enjoy both a and b.
If you are one of these people reading this devotional, I have nothing to say to you. You are a bad person. People don't like you. But please don't confront me on this.
So, it's hard for us to live in a way that befits the Kingdom of God. This lifestyle of love is not fun and not empowering for our ego. This lifestyle of love and forgiveness is draining, self-abnegating, easily misunderstood for weakness, hidden, overlooked, and bruising -- in a word -- it's not appealing. What's the upside? There's an upside? [Isn't it strange that when your mind is a little tired that it starts to talk back to you? Reminds me of a t-shirt that reads, "Sometimes I question my sanity. Occasionally, it replies."]
Earth calling Mork. Heaven calling John. OK. I'm back. The upside is this: Without Living the Lifestyle of Love in Action, We Will Miss Out on the Freedom and Joy of Loving Without Condition. The Kingdom Lifestyle of Love in Action, though toxic to our sinful ego, is nevertheless nourishing to our "inner man/person" or to our Heart that Jesus Gave Us. The Kingdom Lifestyle of Love in Action is a kind of fasting, from our sinful habits that feed our sarx (flesh), and a kind of feasting, on the food of Heaven's mercy, compassion, and joy. Freely we have been forgiven, freely we should forgive. No strings attached. No conditions. The Kingdom Lifestyle promises a life that is ultimately full and free. And who can argue with that?
Let's pray: Lord Jesus, you confuse us when we seriously think about what you are actually saying and commanding. We gloss over so much of what you desire and will for us that very few of us actually try to live the lifestyle that you advocate. If we're honest, we don't heed half the things you command us to do. We simply ignore what you say that makes us feel uncomfortable and seem to us "unrealistic." Please forgive us. You know exactly how we ought to live. You know perfectly the kind of life that brings fulfillment, joy, and freedom. It is your way of life. It is the cross-bearing life. It is the loving-like-God life. Oh, how far we are from living this type of life. But oh, how closer we are getting to you and your way of life, if we just take one more step toward a Kingdom-shaped life of love in action. Empower us to do so. We lay down our sarx. And we pick up our calling to live as you lived. In your name, amen.