Luke 17:1 – 4
Jesus* said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2It 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. 3Be on your guard! If another disciple* sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4And 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.’
We come now to a collection of sayings from Jesus, functioning much like independent proverbs in the narrative. But in some ways Luke relates them to the ongoing narrative – Jesus is again teaching the disciples, not addressing the Pharisees. In these first two sayings, Jesus is talking about living in community.
In the community of Christ, there will be new believers who are still unsure of themselves, unsure of their beliefs. While the disciples have the freedom to, say, go through the field munching on grain on the Sabbath, they must also be mindful of how their actions affect those new believers. Paul speaks of that in Romans 14:
13 Let us therefore no longer pass judgement on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of another.* 14I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15If your brother or sister* is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. 16So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
And so, it is wrong to put a “stumbling block” in the path of the new believer, even though you may be “right”, and may have “rights”.
Jesus goes on to say that in a community we must forgive one another. That next sentence, “If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender,” is often taken out of context. There is a second half of the sentence, you also must forgive. But there is still more – in context, Jesus is not talking about some other person in general sinning, and disciples being the judge. He is talking about disciples, in community, sinning against one another. The person who is a part of the church community, but somehow harms you – that is the person you should be confronting, not the person outside the church whose life-style you disapprove. And when you talk out the problem with that person, then you should forgive. In a community of disciples, as in any community, there will be times when we say something that is hurtful to another, or do something without thinking that insults or demeans another. We should be ready to apologize; we should readily say, I was wrong. And then we should readily forgive one another – even if it is seven times a day!
Life in community requires this sort of honest, direct communication – not going behind someone’s back to whisper and divide the church or the community into factions. A healthy community is one in which people love one another, communicate with one another, and forgive one another.