Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:21-22, NIV).
When you work at a cigar lounge like I do, one of the routine things that needs done through out the day is getting what we call the “ash bucket,” and carrying it around the lounge to empty the ashtrays. Ashes and “dead cigars” are the natural byproduct of smoking cigars. As such it is something that needs done. Not everyone likes to take the time to do that. But the reality is if you don’t keep up with it, things can get pretty messy. After all, those ashtrays only hold so much you know.
Maybe its the pastor in me, but I don’t mind doing it. Truth be told, I see God grinning in this season at the smoke shop He has brought to pass. What I did as a pastor in a spiritual sense, I now do for people in a literal sense. Both in the church and in the cigar shop, I am dealing with people’s earth, ash, and trash.
Something I have noticed is that people are very appreciative when I come by and empty their ashtray. Sometimes they are even surprised. It makes them feel appreciated, cared for, and valued.
What I have been learning is that just as smoking cigars produces ash that needs cleaned up, life produces its own share of ash. Sin, hurt, disappointment, failure, doubt, guilt, shame, and suffering are the spiritual parallels of ash and cigar butts. As Christians we are all called to carry Jesus’ ash bucket–grace–to one another and to work with Jesus to empty the ash of the soul into the bucket and take it away. Jesus has commissioned us to do this work as His servants. That is what mercy, grace, and forgiveness does. It is the work of removing the ash of the soul. It is hard work. Dirty work. But if we don’t do it, soon the muck and mire and dirt of sin will spill over and make things worse for everyone. If we do do it, as humbling as that is, we will find that people are lightened, lifted, freed, and we with them.