Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replied, “If you have 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 has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will 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.’”
Any time any of our children participate in sports activities, I stress a single piece of counsel to them over and over and over. “Listen to the coach.” “Keep your eye on the ball” runs a close second. Nothing is more important, though, than keenly listening to the coach.
These series of teachings have the feel of a coach instructing athletes. Jesus is always teaching, ever making disciples. He invites us to listen to him in the same way his first disciples did. While we do not get Jesus in the flesh, we do have the distinctive advantage of both hindsight and the Holy Spirit. Those disciples didn’t know what was going to happen in Jerusalem and beyond. We do. Those disciples didn’t have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. We do. With the written Word and through the presence of the Spirit, Jesus operates as a master coach.
Let’s break down the four basic lessons he’s teaching us today:
1. When it comes to “these little ones,” the poor and blind and crippled and destitute, we must always come to their aid and never oppose them. All the brokenness of the world works against them constantly. They need mercy rather than pity, friends and not additional foes.
2. Do not separate yourself from sinners. Sinners do not make you unclean, rather your refusal to forgive them makes you unusable in service to God’s kingdom. The well of God’s mercy never runs dry even for those who most oppose him. It takes divine capacity to forgive like God forgives. Never stop forgiving.
3. Faith is a way of living in anticipation of the ever-unfolding work of God. Faith is not a passive belief system to which one gives their intellectual assent. Faith is actively doing #1, #2, and #4.
4. Don’t expect to be applauded and celebrated for merely doing your job. Affirmation may come. Receive it when it does, but do not expect it. We serve. It’s what we do. We renounce any sense of entitlement, and we reject the ever-present temptation to seek status and honor from well doing.
While it’s not complicated, it’s not easy either. This is discipleship in good form. These ways of life go against the grain of the patterns of the world.
And by the way, in case you missed it, the opposite of all four of these life ethics can be summed up in one word: Pharisees.
Be on your guard. Watch yourselves. Listen, the coach beckons us. The yeast of the Pharisees is always right there, and it doesn’t take much to leaven the whole loaf.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a son/daughter.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a saint.
Which one of these four basic lessons from today speaks most to you in your life right now? Why? How might you respond?
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