Summary: The analysis of faith in Luke 17:5-6 teaches us that if we are having trouble forgiving others, then we need an increase of faith.
Several years ago I stumbled across a TV show that featured an illusionist. Intrigued, I watched a fascinating segment. The illusionist and his audience of several hundred people were outside, on the edge of a bay. I believe they were in Hawaii. Most of the audience sat on bleachers looking at a mountain on the other side of the bay. The illusionist asked the audience to get a clear picture of the scene in their mind’s eye. Then he rolled a large screen in front of them so that the water and the mountain were blocked from their view. After talking with the audience for a short while, he rolled the screen out of the way. And everyone – including myself – was astonished to see that the mountain had entirely disappeared! It was as if the mountain had just been taken up and thrown into the sea.
You may recall that Jesus once talked about taking up a mountain and throwing it into the sea. On that occasion Jesus healed a boy who was possessed by a demon. His disciples were not able to cast the demon out of the boy. And so they came to Jesus privately and said to him, “Why could we not cast it out?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen” (Matthew 21:20-21). The disciples did not, of course, lack faith. But their faith was not functioning properly. The disciples encountered a problem, namely, a boy who was possessed by a demon, and they were unable to cast it out. Jesus essentially said that if they had the right kind of faith, then they could accomplish the seemingly impossible – even moving mountains and casting demons out of boys.
You and I live in a fallen and sinful world. We sin against one another and we are sinned against. Usually, we are able to forgive someone who sins against us. We are able to forgive someone who says an unkind word to us, does not do something as promised, gets angry with us, and so on.
But, sometimes, we find it very difficult – seemingly impossible – to forgive someone who sins against us. We find it seemingly impossible to forgive someone who has abused us, or has deeply wounded us by words or actions. What do we do then?
Have you found yourself struggling to forgive someone? Someone has sinned against you and you find it difficult – seemingly impossible – to forgive that person. What do you do then? How do you get to that place where you are able to do the seemingly impossible and forgive someone for his or her sin against you?
Jesus addressed this question in our text for today. We shall learn that forgiveness for Jesus was an issue of faith.
Let’s read about increasing our faith in Luke 17:5-6:
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)
The story is told about George Danzig, who was a senior at Stanford University during the Great Depression. All the seniors knew they’d be joining unemployment lines when the class graduated. There was a slim chance that the top person in the class might get a teaching job. George was not at the head of his class, but he hoped that if he were able to achieve a perfect score on the final exam, he might be given a job.
He studied so hard for the exam that he arrived late to class. When he got to class, the others were already hard at work. He was embarrassed and just picked up his paper and slunk into his desk. He sat down and worked the eight problems on the test paper; then he started on the two written on the board. Try as he might, he couldn’t solve either of them. He was devastated. Out of the ten problems, he had missed two for sure. But just as he was about to hand in the paper, he took a chance and asked the professor if he could have a couple of days to work on the two he had missed. He was surprised when his professor agreed.
George rushed home and plunged into those equations with zeal. He worked hours and hours, but could find the solution for only one of them. He could not solve the other one. It was impossible. When he turned in the test, he knew he had lost all chance of a job. That was the darkest moment of his life.