Love +Faith = Forgiveness

How many of us have often thought, “if only I had more faith?” I find it comforting this morning that we are not the first to have felt this way. This morning’s Gospel begins with the disciples asking Jesus to help them “ increase their faith.” 
Unfortunately the request is taken out of context. For some reason, those who designed the lectionary, instead of attaching our opening lines with the verses previous to them, they made them the prelude to the parable of the “worthless servant”, leaving many of us once again scratching our heads and asking how these few verses actually go together. 
However, when read in context with the beginning verses of Luke’s seventeenth chapter we find the faith the disciples are seeking is for the ability to forgive. 
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And 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.’ The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you. (Luke 17:1-5)
The ability to forgive. It is the foundation of our life together. As I have said at almost every wedding, “God has made us perfectly imperfect.” We have been made perfect because we are made in the perfect image of God. Yet, we are imperfect, because we have not been made in the totality of God’s image. This leaves us, as members of humanity, imperfect and fallible. We are unable to live fully as one with the Godhead. This leaves the foundation of our relationship with God dependent on God’s ability to forgive our imperfection, to forgive our fallibilities, and to forgive our failures. As we are submerged into the waters of Baptism we are washed clean of human sin and redeemed before God through the sacrifice of the Cross. 
It only makes sense then, that as disciples of Christ, we too, would be about forgiveness. In the Gospel of Matthew, when Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive another, Jesus responds, not seven times, but seventy seventy times seven.
Interesting, isn’t it, that the question of having enough faith is emphasized when the command to forgive is being discussed. Now I would have thought this conversation would have arisen when Jesus sends the seventy out to heal and to absolve the sins of others in his name. Yes, they were a bit nervous, but they didn’t need the pep talk about the ability to move landscape. 
What Luke appears to convey is what I have learned from experience, true forgiveness is hard. Forgiveness is like faith in God, it requires us to trust in something we can neither see nor control and forgiveness on some level requires us to be vulnerable to someone whom we have been hurt by. 
With the presidential campaign coming into its final weeks, the American people have again been reminded of President Clinton’s past infidelities. The opposition to Secretary Clinton’s candidacy have used her husbands indiscretions to demonstrate reasons why she would not make a good president along with what ever faults they can root out of her history. Many have questioned, including myself, why she has chosen to remain loyal to her husband. In one of my many conversations with Fr. Mead, the topic of the Clinton’s marriage came up with me sharing my concerns over the wisdom of Secretary Clinton choosing to remain in the marriage. To this Fr. Mead simply asked, “ do you think it is possible that she may actually love her husband.”
 I share this story, neither to endorse or not to endorse Secretary Clinton’s candidacy. instead, because in that moment, I realized something about forgiveness which I had never realized before. Our ability to forgive is predicated on our ability to love.
No wonder why it is in the context of being commanded to forgive that the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. Because the relationship between faith and love is simple, faith grows as we delve deeper into the experience of God’s love for us. The more we allow ourselves to experience God’s love, the easier we find it to forgive. St. Paul not only understood this, he also alludes to this when he wrote to the church at Corinth, “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
For St. Paul, love, better yet the greek word, agape,which in the King James version is translated as charity, is the capstone of Christian community. To the Corinthians he writes, “faith, hope and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.” To the Galatians he writes, “the fruit of the Spirit is love,”(Gal 17:22) To the Ephesians he writes, “ that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” And finally, to the Colossians, when advising on the fundamentals of Christian community, Paul writes, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord* has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 
Now that we have made the connection between, love, faith and the ability to forgive, the latter part of today’s Gospel falls into place. How cold this parable sounds out of context. How cruel God as the master is perceived. But when we realize that the by product of faith is the ability to forgive. . .the master no longer seems so cold as it is the master who has provided the servant with he skills and the tools he needs to do his job, in the same way it is God who through the cross has taught us what true love is, and it is through the sacrifice of the cross that we reap the tools of forgiveness. So like the servant in today’s Gospel, there are few accolades in connection with forgiveness, for we are simply doing what God expects of us.
So yes Lord, increase our faith, so we also can forgive as you have commanded us to do. 


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