Connections 05.01.2016: The Least We Can Do

Connections_MA16_350_c

Luke 17:1-10

I was serving as Interim Pastor of a small church that was blessed to have a very good pianist. She had to be away one Sunday, and a young church member filled in. After the worship service, I was telling the fill-in how grateful I was for her service. She gave me a funny look and said, “Mike, you don’t need to thank me. It’s my church, too. I’m happy to help.”

She seemed genuinely troubled that I felt the need to thank her for doing what she assumed to be her duty—a duty she was glad to perform. Playing the piano was something she could do, and if asked to do it, she did it. She found being praised for it unnecessary and even inappropriate.

Not all Christians can play the piano. Not all Christians can even play the kazoo.

But all Christians can forgive.

I know what some of you are thinking. “Now wait just a minute! Forgiving is one of the hardest things to do. It takes mature faith to forgive someone. Give me time. I’ve been asking the Lord to increase my faith. I’ll get there.”

Which translated means, “Maybe I’ll be able to forgive someone for taking the last piece of pie at that great banquet in the sky.”

In this week’s Scripture, Jesus says that his followers must forgive others. When he says, “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,” it’s more than the apostles can take. Luke tells us that they said (did they say it simultaneously?), “Increase our faith!”

That’s when Jesus told them that if they had faith the size of an itsy-bitsy teeny-tiny seed, they could order a big old mulberry tree around. I think that those interpreters are correct who believe that Jesus meant that the disciples did in fact have a little bit of faith—how could they have committed their lives to following him without having at least a speck of faith?—and so they could in fact forgive others.

The little story about the master and the slave underscores the point that forgiving others is just what we’re supposed to do. It shouldn’t be a big deal. We shouldn’t expect to be patted on the back for it. We’re Christians. We’re followers of Jesus. It’s what we do.

I suspect you’re waiting for the “but,” but I can’t find one in this text—and believe me, I’ve tried.

Forgiveness, Jesus says, is kindergarten-level discipleship.

My Good Wife loves yellow roses, so I give her some when I can. Once, when I had given her a dozen on some occasion or another, I put a picture of them on Facebook and said that I had given them to her because, given all she was to me, it was the least I could do.

I reckon I wanted to be patted on the back.

A friend commented, “Never let it be said that you didn’t do the least you could do.”

Indeed…

Discussion

1. Since forgiveness is such a basic element in Christian discipleship, why do we find it so difficult?
2. Jesus closely connects not causing others to stumble and being willing to forgive people. Why do you think he does that?
3. The slave in the story in vv. 7-10 had a lot to do. Jesus said his master wouldn’t thank him for pulling double duty. The slave was just doing what he was told to do. Should we think of our Christian service as thankless drudgery? Why or why not? If not, how should we think of it?
4. What other sayings and stories of Jesus teach us about the need to forgive? What do they teach us?

Reference Shelf

The train of thought in 17:1-6 to this point has been: (1) if a disciple is never to cause another to stumble and is always to be forgiving, surely the disciple needs an increase in faith; (2) since the disciple is living out of the response to how God has and does treat him or her, this impossible demand is possible, even with the most minute amount of faith (the assumption is that God’s gracious initiative is so generous that even a response to a part of it would result in wonderful behavior in human relationships). Luke believed those who live in faith were able to do what has been asked of them.

If disciples are able to do what is required, they are not able to do more than is required. This point is made in the parable of 17:7-10. Here we meet a man with only one slave, who was forced to do double duty. He worked both as a farm hand (plowing and keeping sheep) and as a domestic servant (preparing supper, serving). After a long day of work, the slave did not expect to be thanked by the master. He had simply done what he had been commanded to do. So, says Jesus, when the disciples “have done all that is commanded” (never being a stumbling block; forgiving unceasingly) they should recognize they have done no more than was commanded. No room is left here for any notion of moral superiority or merit. If, given the enormity of God’s gracious initiative, there is even the slightest response of faith on the part of the disciples, the commandments are achievable. Nevertheless, no achievement is ever able to go beyond what is expected.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary, rev. ed. (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2002) 191-92

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

*****

For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email