When I was young, there were days when I’d come home from school and – the furniture would be rearranged! The couch would be in a new spot. The armchair in the corner. The table and lamp somewhere else. It was a little disorienting, but in a good way. I enjoyed sitting on the couch and having a different perspective of the room. It would happen at the dinner table, too. We’d be assigned different seats, and I enjoyed that, too.
I bring this up because Jesus is talking about rearranging – not the furniture in someone’s living room – but the landscape. This is a metaphor when he says the mulberry tree will jump into the sea. He’s talking about rearranging our, interior landscape –which can lead to CHANGED LIVES – which is momentous.
And HOW exactly do we rearrange the mental or external furniture of our lives?
Well, right before the disciples exclaim, “Increase our faith!” is a text that sheds more light on what they are upset about. The text right BEFORE today’s gospel Jesus says, “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.’ And the disciples GASP!
They say “Increase our faith!” Increase our faith Lord, so we can forgive, and Jesus is saying they we don’t need a lot of faith to forgive. You need just a minuscule amount. Tiny. A barely-there faith is sufficient to forgive seven times.
Yet, surely, they already have the faith of a mustard seed. They’re following him. They’re listening to him. There’s a relationship. That’s enough to change things, and alter the landscape, when they forgive.
Don’t be alarmed by the hyperbole, Jesus uses, this language, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea.’ This is exaggerated speech. Like many of you, I’ve puzzled that one over many times, saying to the Lord, “I THOUGHT I had faith, why isn’t that tree jumping into the water? Why isn’t that mountain moving for me?” Let’s remember Jesus uses exaggerated speech to make a point.
Elsewhere he says, “if a part of your body is offending, then cut it off!” Does he really mean for us to chop off a body part? No. If any of us have tried to move a mountain by concentrating HARD, well you were disappointed, too. Truly, a different kind of landscape that gets rearranged. When we forgive the landscape DOES get rearranged. EVERYTHING CHANGES. Things SHIFT. We are changed. This is Jesus, saying, ‘take a walk on the wild side’ and FORGIVE.
And WATCH. What. Happens.
We have seen on the news that Brandt Jean, the 18-year-old brother, of the man, Botham Jean, who was shot and killed in his apartment, made national news. What did he do? He forgave, Amber Guyger, the woman who killed his brother. This was completely unexpected. ASTONISHING. BECAUSE it was unexpected, FORGIVENESS made the evening and the morning news, around the WORLD. NO ONE expected this act of forgiveness. Yes, as Christians, we know we’re supposed to forgive, but like children it goes in one ear and out the other.
The district attorney said he has never seen anything like this. Lestor Holt of NBC called it “a moment of grace.” George Stephanopolous called it an act of mercy.
Someone does what Jesus says to do, FORGIVE, and it’s talked about throughout the country. It’s rare. WHY is it rare?
Like Jesus says in the text just before today’s: if they say, “I repent’ you must forgive. She DOES repent. Amber Guyger is sorry to her core. The tears she shed in court were real. Hearts were touched in that courtroom. Even the judge was touched and gave Amber one of her own bibles to take into prison. The judge knows real repentance when she sees it.
Yet what we expected was something completely different, wasn’t it? We expected hearts to remain JUSTIFIABLY angry. We expected righteous anger. Forever. Wouldn’t our hearts stay stony?
What IS righteous anger anyway? Does Jesus even use the expression righteous anger? I think we Christians made up that term to stop ourselves from forgiving. Wouldn’t we have felt justified if his brother had hardened his heart against her, and had never forgiven her?
Yet, still in the courtroom, he asked the judge if he can hug the killer of his beloved brother. Then HUGGED her! Brandt explained: “This is what you have to do to set yourself free. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life hating this woman. There’s such a thing as peace of mind. That’s the type of stuff you have to do to have peace of mind.”
Brandt has taken to heart what Jesus, the Prince of Peace, has said: FORGIVE. There is FREEDOM in forgiveness. And the attorney weighed in and it was like listening to a theologian. Attorney Lee Merritt said: “He wanted to forgive her in words, but wanted her to believe him. Just saying it she may not be convinced, he wanted her to get a physical display of that forgiveness, so she would be free. So that HE could authentically be free . . . They won’t be able to get past that hurt until they forgive his killer.”
It was a hug and a statement of forgiveness seen around the world. I would say the brother’s faith is larger than that of a mustard seed, wouldn’t you? Watching the brother hug the woman, I got a sense of what we had lost in the death of his brother, Botham Jean. I’m sure the two brothers were similar in having large hearts. What a loss to the world.
Like the disciples in today’s text, we say WHAT! You want me to do what? Forgive a repentant sinner? I have to? Why, Jesus, why?
Being a disciple
Jesus wants us to have real hearts. REAL hearts are hearts he can use. Jesus has expectations of us, his disciples. This is not doctrine here, but the Christian life itself. That’s why we get that statement from Jesus about the servant (slave) is only doing what he or she is supposed to be doing – plow the fields, cook the dinner and then serve it. As Christ’s disciples, we are expected to forgive, too. We all have enough faith to do it. We just need a speck. A speck of faith is enough to do the job.
It’s obedience. Yes, obedience. A word we reserve for small children, yet we suspect we are LARGE children. Where Jesus’ words to us go in one ear and out the other, like children.
It shakes us to see real acts of forgiveness. It rearranges the world. We saw on the evening news that speaking in metaphors, the mulberry tree DID uproot itself and get planted in the sea. We look at the world differently now. The Holy Spirit blew through that courtroom of hatred, loss, and despair. Like when I was a child and would come home to a living room rearranged, and enjoy the different perspective, this is what Christianity looks like, world! We were looking at AMAZING GRACE on prime time.
The Christians sit up and we all claim Brandt. He’s ours! THAT’S what discipleship looks like.
Forgiveness, no bigger than a speck, can and does change things. This is the POWER we have been given as Christ’s disciples. USE your POWER! USE it! The forces of evil count on us NOT using it. Forgiveness is a difficult thing, but look at the GOOD it brings! If you use your speck of faith, the Holy Spirit will blow through YOU! We can rearrange the world.
Go out there and claim Brandt as one of ours. Start conversations about him. ‘Hey, how about that forgiveness we saw on TV. How about that!’ Let’s KEEP that conversation going, and let’s do forgiveness.
I hope you don’t get tired of me telling you that when I forgave my parents, I received this call. Cause and effect. God, as we know, can be subtle. God was not subtle with that. The call was buried under grudges. The grudges were just a part of my mental furniture in my mind and heart. I was just used to having them in my psyche. Did I stumble over them? Sure. And I was a good Christian. It was a difficult process, but I am GLAD I did it. I didn’t do it alone. I had someone to help me and be a witness to each step I took. The Christian community helped me.
TAKE the power that Jesus gives you! Mundane, ordinary, yet EXTRAORDINARY mustard seed-sized faith. It may be tiny, but it can do some heavy lifting. Forgiveness! Life-changing forgiveness. We are called to “Transform the world into the image of its Creator,” using plain old, vanilla forgiveness.
WHAT IF – here comes more gospel. WHAT IF – we forgive people who don’t repent? What if we forgive people who have no intention of repenting, are hardened in their sins, and think the whole thing laughable? Blessed are you if you forgive them. You forgive them to get your soul FREE of their hooks in you. YOU rearrange the furniture in your psyche and heart. Let’s keep the conversation going about forgiveness. Let’s have our mustard seed faith do the heavy lifting.
I thank you Lord for our mustard seed sized faith. Give us the community of believers to help us do the jobs of forgiveness we need to do. Help us to show the world what CHRISTIANS can do with the faith we’ve been given. Let us recreate the world in YOUR image.
 Ira Brent Driggers. Workingpreacher.org