“Then stop it!” was my graceless reply. Among my several vocations, I am a father. One of my children had just said, “Sorry, daddy,” and my actual reply was, “Then stop it!” This was not one of my finer moments. I needed (and need) the very same grace I am called to extend to others.

But it is so difficult... like crazy difficult. As in, “I feel like I’m literally going crazy saying the same things over and over and over and over again.” How many times have I told my kids to get their fingers out of their noses or their feet out of their siblings’ faces or their dishes actually in the dishwasher? Seven? Seventy times seven? It is not just day after day, or even hour after hour. I might say the same thing multiple times within the same thirty-second commercial break. Sometimes it feels like they are purposefully trying to wear me down. It emphasizes how Jesus’ call to forgive is regularly far beyond my capacity.

That said, I read some verses of Scripture very naturally and easily, simply taking them at face value without feeling any burden to massage the words beyond exactly what they say (1 Peter 3:21; 1 Corinthians 10:16). But other times, I find myself doing a bit more “interpretation” and “clarifying” what the words seem to say. The harder I find myself working to massage the meaning of the text beyond what the words actually say, the more pause it gives me.

What Jesus says about forgiving one another throughout the Gospels is as difficult as it is clear. Take a couple minutes and read what Jesus says in Matthew 6:12-15, 18:15-35; Mark 11:25-26; Luke 6:37, 11:4, 17:3-4.

On the one hand, forgiving as Jesus commands us feels impossible. But on the other hand, forgiving as we have been forgiven is the most natural thing in the world. Taken as a whole, our reading from Luke 17:1-10 holds this tension together.

In verse 3, Jesus directs our attention inward: “Pay attention to yourselves!” Before He talks about your brother’s sins, He prefaces it by directing your attention inward. What follows is neither just an outline for due process or good order in church discipline, nor is it primarily about being on the lookout and policing other people’s thoughts, words, or deeds. As you live among broken people, Jesus wants you to pay attention to yourself. Specifically, you are called (commanded?) to forgive. You must forgive over and over and over and over again. The phrase “in the day” jumped out at me. Not just, “forgive up to seven times,” but even seven times in the day! Rather than focus on their fault, pay attention to yourself, and focus on your calling to forgive.

Rather than focus on their fault, pay attention to yourself, and focus on your calling to forgive.

It is no wonder the next words out of the disciple’s/apostle’s mouths are, “Increase our faith!” I do not have it in me. As much as I wish I did, and know I should, I just do not; not as a pastor, not as a husband, not even as a dad to my beloved children. Lord, increase my faith. I do not have the capacity. Even when I wish I did, I just do not have it in me.

On the one hand, forgiving as Jesus commands us feels impossible. But on the other hand, forgiving as we have been forgiven is the most natural thing in the world. After Jesus gives an image for God’s miraculous work through even a grain of faith, He uses the illustration of a dutiful and faithful servant.

Whether farming or shepherding (or forgiving?), the faithful servant does what their Lord has called them to do. To do so is the most natural thing in the world. That is simply how it works. It was not an impossible task. It was not a punitive burden. It was not an extraordinary feat only a few could ever attain. It is just the way it is: Normal. Basic. Given.

Left to ourselves, the call to forgive is far beyond our capacity. But we are not left to ourselves. We have a gracious Lord who has brought us into His grace by faith, having forgiven us, and continuing to forgive us (even seven times in the day). It is given.

Nevertheless, as an earthly father who fails to forgive, I have a heavenly Father who is always eager to forgive on account of His perfect Son. There is no punishment or burden for me to bear, for Jesus bore it all on the cross.

It may very well be that I will find myself praying through the embarrassment of failing to forgive yet again this week, perhaps even this very afternoon. But in that moment, I am confident God our Father will be merciful in the moment. I am confident God will give me the grace I do not naturally have. And what is more, the grace of God is so abundant there will be enough of an overflow that I will be able to share with others. In fact, the only forgiveness I am able to share with others is from what God gives graciously to me.

Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourselves.” This certainly means we are responsible for our actions and ought to graciously forgive others. But in light of the next couple paragraphs, “pay attention to yourselves” might also be an invitation to remember who we are in light of our gracious Lord. We are recipients of God’s eternal favor and forgiveness in Jesus. In Jesus, forgiveness is simply given.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Luke 17:1-10.

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.