Summary: Faith -- great or small -- is a gift from Christ, and can do amazing things, like remaining steadfast and offering forgiveness.
INCREASE OUR FAITH!
“You just gotta have faith.” That’s a popular sentiment in our society. By and large, people believe that faith is an important virtue worth having. The problem is that we get so caught up in determining what faith is, and if we have enough of it.
This is nothing new. Jesus’ own disciples struggled with the very same issues. They often heard Jesus talk about faith. They knew it was something they wanted, but they weren’t quite sure what it was, or if they even had it.
Sometimes, we feel the same way. We wonder if we are truly faithful believers, and deep-down we long for some tangible, outward proof to assure us that we have enough faith. So we say with the disciples, INCREASE OUR FAITH! We’ll look and see if that is an appropriate request. Lord-willing, we will consider these two points: 1) Why the Disciples Made this Request, and 2) How Jesus Responded.
1) Why the Disciples Made this Request
Have you ever felt completely inadequate for a task? Sometimes people ask things of us that we just don’t think we’ll be able to accomplish. For example, I remember the first time one of my nephews tried to ride a two-wheel bike. His mother was determined he would ride that bike. My nephew was uncertain, though. Time and again, his mom would show him what to do, but he was afraid. He didn’t think he could do it. And the more his mother demanded, the more impossible the task seemed. He was afraid because he was uncertain of his own abilities.
In the gospel for today, we find Jesus’ disciples experiencing the same fear and anxiety. The reason is that Jesus had just given them some steep instructions. He said, “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. I 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.” Jesus gives two directives: don’t be a stumbling block to someone else’s faith, and, forgive others. Those are steep directives. And when the disciples looked at themselves they insisted that they weren’t up to the challenge.
Still, Jesus is serious about this command. These words apply to us as well. Our example, whether in word or deed, should not cause others to be trapped in sin. Now, Jesus admits that sin will be committed, but that does not mean his people are to take a careless attitude towards giving offense.
We live in a society that would like nothing more than for us to undermine our faithful walk with God. “C’mon! Everybody’s doing it!” That’s the great mantra, which bombards us everyday. From the television to the Internet, we find all sorts of traps that would ensnare us, and in the process, trap others. As Christians, we wear our faith on our sleeves. I’m sure it’s no surprise to our friends and neighbors that we are believers. Yet, when those same people see us saying or doing things that are contrary to the Christian faith, it will lead them to wonder about our sincerity, it will lead them to wonder about our Lord, and it may even lead them to do or say the very same things, since they saw us do it, they’ll assume it must be alright. Jesus’ warning hits home. He says, “Watch yourselves.” This requires faith.
Now, for the other side of the coin. Jesus says that when people are a stumbling block to us – when they are tempted by sin – we are to forgive them. When someone’s sin troubles us, it is never easy to forgive. But Jesus wants us to forgive and to do so even when it is difficult to do. And so in an attempt to casually listen to Jesus we say, “O.K. I’ll forgive this time, but once is enough.” Our Savior confronts that attitude straight on. Jesus mentions the hardest case of all – a fellow Christians who sins against me not only once, not only twice, but seven times, and all in one day! – Jesus says, “It doesn’t matter. If he comes back every time and says, ‘I’m sorry. Please forgive me,’ forgive him.” What Jesus is telling us is that we are to be willing to forgive one another no matter how often we sin against each other.
When we consider Jesus’ words, we soon find that the disciples were a lot like us. They felt that if they could have more faith, they could be better disciples. We think like this too. We often look at our life and we are not pleased at what we see. We get this sense that we could be doing better. So, we say to ourselves, "If only I had more faith. Then I could be a better disciple." And we say to God the same thing the disciples said - Increase my faith!