Reading: Matthew 18:15-17
I used to think that the moral guidance provided by the Word of God was only at the conceptual level—i.e., love one another, forgive, do not hate. It was difficult for me to grasp because actions such as loving and forgiving were for me ‘emotions’, not ‘actions’; and as mere emotions, loving and forgiving are difficult to beckon.
But how wrong I was. The Word of God is full of instructions—the “how to’s”; actions that if we carry out, are manifestations of love—for God, for our fellow human beings, and for ourselves. Even when loving emotions are difficult to summon, by heeding God’s instructions and just doing what is right, tender emotions should not be slow to follow.
“… Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess.” – Deuteronomy 32:46-47
Matthew 18:15-17 is one passage wherein Jesus gave a clear instruction on what to do when someone sins against us. We are to go to the person and discuss things over—just between ‘you and me’. No gossiping to get people on my side, no social media involved to bring the person to public disgrace. Talk about etiquette! I need not mention that when we speak ill of other people, we only get to our side the people who love to speak ill of other people as well, but we lose the trust of the more respectable lot.
(Oh how guilty I am of participating in this as well! I wish I could go back and ‘un-like’ hostile posts I have ‘liked’ before which disparaged well-known preachers and evangelists—even those who have blessed me with their sermons and books. I do not know them personally, i.e., the preachers/evangelists, and whatever they are being accused of now I have no way of validating. All the more shameful is I do not even know the people maligning them and I have just accepted their statements. I had fallen into the trap. Lord, forgive! “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.” – Romans 14:4)
Thus, if at the first attempt everything is not worked out, we only need one or two other witnesses (v.16) to establish the matter (and who knows if we are the one in the wrong?); and if the offender does not listen still—it is only then that the matter will have to go public—in church, among the body of believers—not to condemn, but to give the person one more chance. And if the offender refuses to listen even to the church? Then that’s when we should treat the person as we would a pagan or a tax collector.
Now this got me thinking—how should I treat a pagan or a tax collector (i.e., the person who sinned against me but would not confess)? Okay, so now I will take the view that this person probably does not really share the Christian faith. Or, s/he probably believes but has more to go in terms of attitude and behaviour. So how do I treat a pagan or a tax collector? With hate? Derision? The irony of this passage is that this was written by Matthew himself, formerly Levi the Tax Collector. So I would take the same position as my Lord: with L-O-V-E.
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” – Luke 6:27-28