Jesus has high expectations for his disciples. This is a common theme in Luke (see Luke 9:57-62 and 14:25-33), and it comes through clearly in this text. Jesus instructs his followers to care for little ones and forgive repeatedly those who repent. It’s a tall order, and the disciples get it. Which is why they plea for help.

The Text

The beginning of chapter 17 marks a change in audience. At the end of chapter 16 Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for refusing to listen to God’s prophets. Now he turns to the disciples. This back and forth between the disciples and the Pharisees characterizes much of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. Luke invites us to imagine Jesus standing between detractors and followers, turning back and forth to address one in front of the other.[1]

Jesus’ warning against causing offense to little ones is followed immediately by a call to forgive. Forgiveness is a recurring theme in Luke (see 6:37, 11:4, and 24:47). Unlike the older son in Luke 15, disciples of Jesus are called to forgive repeatedly, even ceaselessly.

The disciples responded to this call by asking Jesus to increase their faith. This is significant. Notice what they didn’t say. They didn’t ask Jesus to help them forgive, or to keep them from offending little ones. Instead, they asked for faith. Whether they realized it or not, their plea demonstrates the unity between faith and action. The problem with unfaithful living is a lack of living faith. When disciples of Jesus do not forgive as they have been forgiven, the solution isn’t merely to tell them to forgive. That’s part of it. But more basic, the solution is to proclaim the promises of God in Christ to which faith clings. More on that below.

The point of the little story in verses 7-10 is simple: servants do their duty. Faithful servants aren’t rewarded for doing their job. Likewise, Christians practicing forgiveness do not earn special recognition. It’s simply what servants of Jesus do. Or, perhaps more accurately, what servants of Jesus should do. More on that below, too.

Toward a Sermon

“Imagine what it would be like if, when people in our community thought about this congregation, the first thing that came to mind was how forgiving we are.” I found myself making this type of statement with some regularity in the congregation I served. Unfortunately (and ironically given the centrality of forgiveness in our worship services), Christians often find it hard to forgive others. While we cherish the forgiveness we receive, we aren’t normally known for our forgiving spirit.

This is a problem, for Jesus means what he says. To be a Christian to be forgiven and forgiving. The two go together. It’s simply what Christians do.[2] It would be appropriate to say this clearly and unequivocally in your sermon.

But the object of our faith isn’t our ability to forgive. This is where the disciples’ single line in this text becomes significant. They recognized their inability to forgive as they had been forgiven, and so they pleaded for an increase of faith. That’s what we need, too. Our difficulty forgiving is ultimately a difficulty in believing the promises God has made to us in Christ. Which means the preacher needs to proclaim God’s promises.

How might you do that in this sermon? I’d suggest following the metaphor in Jesus’ brief story at the end of the reading. Jesus invited the disciples to think about the work of a servant. Servants serve their masters. When the master is kind and good, the vocation of servant is one of privilege and honor.

In Christ, God has made us his servants. We are no longer on our own. We are no longer in charge of our lives. But he is a gracious Master. He forgives us, brings us into his household, welcomes us under his care, gives us meaningful work to do, and offers us a seat at his table. It is a privilege to be called one of his servants. (And we aren’t only servants. John 15:15 comes to mind. Jesus also calls us his friends.)

As you proclaim the promise of God to your hearers, invite them to imagine a different kind of church. Invite them to imagine a church full of disciples who practice genuine forgiveness in all their vocations. Invite them to imagine what it might look like for them to forgive specific people they are struggling to forgive.

Jesus’ expectations are high. That’s for sure. But he is good at forgiving. And we are his servants.

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Additional Resources:

Concordia Theology- Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 17:1-10

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 17:1-10.

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 17:1-10.