9th June 2017

Forgiveness and the Mulberry Tree 

“He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.’
Luke 17:6 (NIVUK)

The 2017 winner of the edible plant of the year at the RHS Chelsea Flower show in London was a Mulberry Tree, which, in the Bible, is called the Sycamine Tree.

Jesus would often use familiar or adjacent objects to illustrate a point he is making, and here he refers to three of them: the mustard seed, the mulberry tree and the sea.

All these things were as common as mud to the disciples, but what was not common or well-known was an abundance of forgiveness. The context of the verse is forgiveness. Christ had explained to them that if someone were to sin against them seven times in a day, then forgive him or her seven times: meaning that forgiveness is not limited in any way. This sounded a tall order to the disciples, and therefore they demanded of Jesus, if this is what he required of them, “Increase our faith!” (v.5).

Such forgiveness seemed superhuman to them, and therefore they thought it must be about the power of faith. But, was it? Does Jesus back them up in that? Is Jesus urging them on to make more effort in the faith stakes? Did they think having more faith would make them increasingly worthy in God’s sight and that therefore they would be better able to forgive? Maybe. Note, however, what Christ concluded in his talk with them. He said that they should say, when they had lived that life of forgiveness, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty” (v.10). Was it thus more about duty than it was about how much faith they had? Had they missed the point altogether?

Later, in 1 Corinthians 13:2, Paul wrote, “if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing”. He understood that our duty in Christ is to love others, and that Christ’s love within us “keeps no record of wrongs” (v.5). This love forgives, and perseveres in forgiveness even when obstacles get in the way.

I wonder what the disciples thought of all this. Another cryptic comment from Jesus. Did they just look up at the splendid Mulberry Tree, scratched their heads in puzzlement, shrugged their shoulders, and then hurried to catch up with Jesus as he walked away? Perhaps, they should have said, “Increase our love!” 

Father, we know that we don’t understand everything, but in faith we know that you have called us to a life of forgiveness. Help us, please, through your Holy Spirit, to love others and in that love to forgive and to continue to forgive. In Jesus’ name.

Study by James Henderson


About the Author:
James Henderson is the National Ministry Leader for Grace Communion International in the UK and Ireland.

Local Congregation:
You are welcome to attend any of our local congregations in the UK and Ireland. For details of your nearest local congregation, check on our website, www.gracecom.org.uk under the ‘Churches’ tab, or ring +44 (0)1858 437099.

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