17 He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.
Luke collects various sayings of Jesus and groups them together in this section. The first deals with the seriousness of leading others astray by your conduct, doctrine, or words. The idea of a stumbling block is that of walking along a path and catching your foot on a rock you didn’t see. At best, you stumble, at worst, you fall flat on your face and really hurt yourself.
In Matthew’s context, the penalty is more understandable, given that the ‘little ones’ the Lord referred to were children. These were not adults, cognizant of the moral import of their decisions or responsible for them, but innocents who were still naïve about the world and were trusting the adults around them to guide them in truth. More importantly, they were watching the adults in their lives and seeing the adults’ example as what was normal, good behavior.
That’s a terrifying proposition that any good parent will realize the first time their little one repeats something they shouldn’t say that they’ve heard you say. It strikes me every day. I see the innocence on my toddlers’ faces and my mantra is “Don’t screw this job up.” But I know I will some days. I know my kids will be watching me and my conduct will be to them what an adult is. My relationship with their mother will be what a real marriage is in their eyes. My actions as a disciple of Christ will define their view of the church and their own spiritual path.
But it does apply more generally to all of our relationships, and not just a parental one. For the disciples of Christ must always be aware that others are watching their life and will see our personal conduct (flaws and all) as representative of what a Christian is.
3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
This seems related to the Apostle Peter’s question about how often he should forgive his brother the same offense. Peter threw out the number seven. Jesus replied with seventy times seven, the idea being figurative of an unlimited supply of forgiveness.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.
Pretty simple. We’re forgiven much on a daily basis. Christ has wiped the slate clean and His mercies are new every morning. We’re disciples (mimickers) of Christ, so what should our response be when someone sins against us? Forgiveness and mercy.
As said elsewhere, the goal of forgiveness is the restoration of a relationship and I think the disciple of Christ is able to set reasonable conditions to demonstrate that the offender is serious about their desire to change. That may include a period of separation, counseling, addiction or financial therapy, prison time, etc. depending on the nature of the sin. You don’t need to live with or tolerate a serial abuser, for instance. Get out. If God reaches the heart of that man or woman and they sincerely regret their conduct, then they will respect your conditions for healing that relationship. If they don’t. That’s their decision and you can continue to take reasonable steps to ensure your own safety and your own healing.