“People ask me what advice I have for a married couple struggling in their relationship. I always answer: pray and forgive. And to young people from violent homes, I say pray and forgive. And again even to the single mother with no family support: pray and forgive” – Mother Teresa
Gospel text (Lk 17:1-6): Jesus said to his disciples, «Scandals will necessarily come and cause people to fall; but woe to the one who has brought it about. It would be better for that one to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around the neck. Truly this would be better for that person than to cause one of these little ones to fall.
»Be careful. If your brother offends you, rebuke him and if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he offends you seven times in a day but says to you seven times: ‘I'm sorry’, forgive him».
The apostles said to the Lord, «Increase our faith». And the Lord said, «If you have faith even the size of a mustard seed, you may say to this tree: ‘Be uprooted and plant yourself in the sea’, and it will obey you».
Jesus tells his disciples, "Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the one through whom they occur." There is a terrific sense of reality here. I know that I sometimes am too easily scandalized when I see great evil in the world. "How can that happen?!" I'll ask. Jesus knows that the evil spirit is present and tempts us. And, Jesus knows that we sometimes fall into temptation. And sometimes, that sin is severe. So his warning is serious.
His further warning is amazing, as it reveals the depth of his concern for his "little ones." He continues, speaking about the one through whom things that cause sin occur, "It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin." The severest warning is for one who causes "little ones" to sin. Our minds don't need much help to imagine the horrible ways that tragedy happens today - from small ways children are neglected and left to make bad choices and fall into terrible life patterns, to the horrible way children are abused by parents, family members, care givers, teachers, even some priests.
However, the most surprising part of this story is the third part of Jesus' message. "If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him." Jesus gives his most severe warning (just imagine being thrown into a sea with a huge stone used in a mill to grind wheat tied around our neck!) and then tells us how merciful he wants us to be with the sinner. How can he do this? Because he is inviting us to love the way he loves us.
Notice that the sinner has the freedom to turn away and not repent. But, if we, as sinners, repent, we are forgiven time and time again. Jesus will always be there to give us another chance. And, every blessing comes with a responsibility. Because we are loved this much, we are called to love this much.
It is easy to understand why the disciples, upon hearing Jesus call them to this kind of mercy, ask him, "Lord, give us faith!" It is the most spontaneous response each of us would have if called to love unconditionally, as we are loved. And, Jesus just replies, as he always does, assuring us: All we need is a mustard seed size faith and we can do it. He'll make it possible. Apart from him, we can't do anything, but with him, we can do anything.