CASTING OUT THE ROOTS OF BITTERNESS: Luke 17

They say forgiimageveness is easy, until you have something to forgive.

And if the reason for that hurt continues—if the person responsible comes back and does it again and again and even, which is worse, apologizes every time and then repeats her sin—forgiveness is not easy at all.

What can be done?

In Luke 17:3-4, Jesus tells his disciples:

“Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

You’ve got to be kidding.

I remember telling my kids, “Sorry isn’t enough. What are you going to do about it?” Or “don’t say you’re sorry if you don’t mean it!” There’s nothing quite so annoying as the kid who accidentally-on-purpose hits his sister, then jumps away with a hasty “Sorry!” … only to do it again. And again.  Reading Jesus’s words brings to mind that kid grown up, inflicting pain for the fun of it and taunting his victim by asking forgiveness each time. It’s an ugly picture.

How is it possible to forgive such a person?

No wonder the disciples reply, “Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (vs. 5). Not only because it’s hard to do, but because the man they are following presents this as a duty. It’s not some saintly pinnacle to strive for but the way everyone must behave as his disciples (see the rest of Luke 17). I think of Peter in John 6:68, after many others fall away on account of Jesus’s saying that they must eat his flesh. Jesus asks if they too will leave, but Peter says “Lord, to whom shall we go?”

There is no other master, even though his sayings are hard. If we are to be disciples who truly follow Jesus, we need faith. Faith that he knows what he’s saying and faith that we will be able to do as he asks.

“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:5-6). The point being, of course, that even a tiny amount of faith can unleash God’s power within you to forgive.

http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com/t2541-suggestions-for-mulberry

Mulberry roots. Photo by Jon Hultgren from http://ibonsaiclub.forumotion.com

 

The “sycamine tree”—our mulberry—has a wide, shallow root system that must be completely removed if it’s not wanted. And that’s not easy. Saplings spring up from the roots even if the main tree is cut down. But because those roots are shallow, they don’t take well to competition. If you want a healthy mulberry tree, you’ll have to plant even grass outside the drip line—or the mulberry roots will grow weak.

Imagine now a seed of mustard, planted near a mulberry tree. Mustard is invasive. When you see it in the wild, it fills a field and allows nothing else to grow. It is thought that its roots produce a chemical that suppresses the growth of other species.

The strong taproot of the mustard. Photo by Bob Bugg from http://ucanr.edu/sites/asi/db/covercrops

The strong taproot of the mustard. Photo by Bob Bugg from http://ucanr.edu/sites/asi/db/ covercrops

 

I know the Bible isn’t a botany manual, but surely the habits of local plants were well known in the agrarian society Jesus spoke to. They would know not only the tiny size of the mustard seed, but also its habit. I like to think that nurtured with prayer and put to work in forgiveness and charity, the little faith I have will grow and force out shoots of bitterness, preventing “mulberry trees” from growing inside of me at all.

As for the stubborn roots that exist already: it may not seem possible to forgive like Jesus requires. But with God, all things are possible! With faith in him and in his power–not just his own power but his “power at work within us” (read Ephesians 3:14-20!)—we can forgive the way he commands us.

I love this poem by Rita Simmonds:

Forgiveness takes the mustard seed of faith–

a sigh, a speck

packed with hope,

to say to the gnarly tree in your soul,

“I can’t feed you anymore!

Don’t torture me! Be gone!”

And feel it extract itself,

taste its strange fruit

as it leaves through your mouth

to be planted in the dark valley

of the sea.

Its branches,

tired of the weight,

will sway in the salty waves

and be at peace.

The ocean goes an open length

to bare the messy mulberry.

– Rita Simmonds

May Jesus increase your faith, that you might forgive.

About the Author:

Sarah Christmyer  is co-developer and founding editor of The Great Adventure Catholic Bible study program.  The author of numerous Bible studies and several guided journals for Bible reading, she speaks at conferences and retreats on topics related to Scripture and the Catholic faith.  She teaches at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Philadelphia. Follow her blog at ComeIntotheWord.com.

 

 

This article was originally published on November 16, 2016 at ComeIntotheWord.com

Showing 5 comments
  • Carol Younger
    Reply

    Sarah, sometimes your writings, born from deep prayer, leave me breathless! This is one of those times: may Jesus increase our faith in this Holy Triduum as he asks the Father to forgive us!

  • Karen Sheehy
    Reply

    love the gnarly tree image! Thanks Sarah.

  • Barbara
    Reply

    Thank you so much Sarah

  • Barbara Gilligan
    Reply

    Thank you, Sarah. I certainly need this reminder on forgiveness. . Jesus, increase our faith!

  • Judy
    Reply

    This is great. Ever since a teen, many decades ago, the mustard seed passage is what I clung to for hope of better tomorrows. Showing the images, the root systems, of the mulberry and mustard, along with the knowledge of how invasive the mustard seed can be is truly transforming. I never realized, until now, how small I kept the mustard seed. I never envisioned its root system. I only “saw” it grow into the largest of garden plants where even birds would come to rest. Thank you for expanding my mind on the tiny mustard seed of faith.

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