Posts tagged ‘forgiveness’

February 20, 2011

The right response to hatred

Light and Dark

Photo: Sunrise on the way to Timoleague, early one Sunday morning.

Sermon for Sunday 20th February.  Text: Matthew 5:38-48

Timoleague, Clonakilty HC, Year A 3rd Sunday Before Lent (Proper 2), 20/2/11.  Matthew 5:38-48

Humility is a difficult thing to grasp.  I had to laugh last week when I saw a politician on television puffing out his chest and saying “I am a humble man”!  Poor chap, I think the irony of boasting about his humility was lost upon him!  But of course politicians are easy targets, what about ourselves, are we in danger of being proud of our humility?  Well if we are then the few verses of our reading from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel will give us a jolt back into reality…

The Lord Jesus starts off by quoting a well-known phrase from the Old Testament law (from Exodus 21:24) and then He expands upon it:

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an  eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; (Matthew 5:38, 39)

How do we react when we are wronged?  Think about when you are in the car and somebody pulls out in front of you or cuts you up at a roundabout, or you are trying to turn on to the main road but some eejit is blocking the yellow box junction!  We can get a bit upset – perhaps we even secretly wish that our car was equipped with a mobile rocket-launcher!  When someone does wrong to us we want revenge!

The Old Testament law of ‘an eye for an eye’ was there to make sure that the punishment fitted the crime, so that a sentence was neither too harsh nor too lenient.  What does the Lord want us to do?  Does He want us to demand our rights?  No.  Does He want us to make sure that those who wrong us are punished?  No.  (This is not so much talking about crimes against the state which are punishable under law, it is talking about our relationships and dealings with people).  Do we have a readiness to resentment?  Are we easily offended?  Do we go into a sulk when we don’t get our way?  Are we keen to assert our rights?

The Lord does not want us to be like this, we are not to be a miserable selfish grouch who everybody avoids because they are afraid of upsetting.  As Mahatma Ghandi (who though a Hindu greatly admired Jesus’ teaching) said ‘an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.’  If we want God’s Kingdom to come, if we want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven , then we have to let go of our natural wishes and desires and we have to respond as Jesus did.  If someone slaps us on the cheek, our first thought might be to punch their lights out, but no, we are to not retaliate.  If someone takes from us we are not to resist but offer them more!  If someone compels us to do something to help them we are to go the ‘whole hog’ and help them as fully as we are able to do so.

We are to return good for evil and blessing for cursing.  We are to love not only in word but in deed also.

Next, the Lord says:

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Of course, nowhere in the Old Testament law does it say to hate enemies, rather the words had been misinterpreted over time.  It’s one thing to turn the other cheek but when the Lord asks us to love our enemies is that not going a bit far?  What is an enemy?  According to my dictionary, an enemy is someone who is opposed to something, and actively tries to damage it. (Collins English Dictionary sixth ed. 2003).  Is Jesus mad?  No, He definitely is not.  Perhaps we forget that once we were His enemy, and did He not treat us with overwhelming love?  We might say ‘I was never God’s enemy’, well before you gave your life to Christ, you were a sinner, what is a sinner, but someone who lives their life apart from God.  There is no sitting on the fence, either we are for God or we are against Him and to be against Him is to be His enemy. Listen to this, from Romans chapter 5:

8But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.9Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.

So in other words, the Lord Jesus wants us to behave towards others as He has behaved towards us, with unconditional love, grace and acceptance.

A professor of New Testament Studies, Gary M. Burge, writes the following true story

A few years ago in Jerusalem’s famed Hadassh Hospital, an Israeli soldier lay dying. He had contracted AIDS as a result of his reckless lifestyle and was now in the last stages of the disease’s terrible course. His father was a famous Jerusalem rabbi, and both he and the rest of his family had disowned him. He was condemned to die in his shame. The nursing staff on his floor knew his story and carefully avoided his room. Everyone was simply waiting for his life to expire.

The soldier happened to be part of a regiment that patrolled the Occupied West Bank, and his unit was known for its ferocity and war-fighting skills. The Palestinians living there hated these troops. They were merciless and could be cruel. Their green berets always gave them away.

One evening the soldier went into cardiac arrest. All the usual alarms went off, but the nursing staff did not respond. Even the doctors looked the other way. Yet on the floor another man was at work—a Palestinian Janitor, a Christian—who knew this soldiers story as well and also knew the meaning of the emergency. The Janitor’s own village had even been attacked by this soldier’s unit. When the Palestinian heard the alarm and witnessed the neglect, his heart was filled with compassion. He dropped his broom, entered the soldier’s room, and attempted to resuscitate the man by giving him cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The scene was remarkable: a poor Palestinian man, a victim of this soldier’s violence, now tried to save his enemy while those who should have been doing this stood on the sidelines. …

When you understand what it means for an enemy to love an enemy—and for the righteous to show neglect—then you will have a picture of the power of God’s grace at work in a person’s heart.

Gary M. Burge, Jesus, the Middle-Eastern Storyteller (Zondervan, 2009), pp. 24-25 (From preachingtoday.com)

It is of course easy for us to love those who love us, but the ability to love those who are actively hostile to us is another thing altogether.  One of the things that makes the Christian and indeed the Church of God different from the world is the ability to love unconditionally.

To live like this might seem like the bar is set just too high, but are we not children of God, and as children of God should we not be like our Heavenly Father?  If we only love those who love us, then where is the evidence of our conversion?  As Bishop J.C. Ryle puts it:

Do we flinch from the test? Do we find it impossible to do good to our enemies?  If that be the case we may be sure we have yet to be converted.  As yet we have not received the “Spirit of God.” (1 Cor. ii. 12.)

(J.C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on the Gospel, Matthew, 1856).

So who are our enemies?  The answer will be different for each of us.  They may be persons we do not even know, but who would wish us ill because of our association with Christ.  Sadly, our enemy may even be a family member or former friend or work colleague.  They  may make no secret in delighting in our failures and resenting our successes.

Here is the challenge:  You can be sure that if you are a follower of the Lord Jesus that you will have the opportunity to minister to those who hate you.  What will we do when that time comes; will we turn away and pretend not to notice, or will we reach out in love?

How happy would the world be if we were all able to live as Jesus taught.  But we are weak and we are proud and so stubborn.  Yet if there is a small spark of hope in us that is able to say “Thy will be done”, we can be assured that the very second we say “yes” to God, He is there and He will help us and He will give us every strength, resource and encouragement in Christ that we need to love, yes to unconditionally love even those who hate us.

Amen.

 

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December 5, 2010

JtheB and the road to the Lord

Clonakilty in the snow

Thank you so much to the person (who wishes to remain anonymous) who posted me a Facebook message answering my call for help.  The message picked me up and got me writing again – thank you!

Today’s Sermon (Text: Matthew 3:1-12) Advent 2, Year A

In his poem “St. John the Baptist’s Day”, John Keble writes:

Where is the lore the Baptist taught,
The soul unswerving and the fearless tongue?
The much-enduring wisdom, sought
By lonely prayer the haunted rocks among?
Who counts it gain
His light should wane,
So the whole world to Jesus throng?(1)

The Lord Jesus said of John:
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist… (Matthew 11:11a)

John the Baptist was an amazing character. He lived in the desert wilderness, and Matthew tells us that he had raggedy old clothes made from camel’s hair, held up by an old leather belt. For his food / Bush Tucker Trial, he had a strict diet of locusts and wild honey. The honey sounds nice, but I’m not so sure about the locusts! He doesn’t really sound like the type of character one would normally listen to, does he? But what an awesome character John was, so holy and so humble, never seeking any credit for himself and always directing attention away from himself and onto Christ.

When I was at theological college, a Rector who I did a parish placement with discussed John the Baptist with me as I was preparing to write a sermon for that Sunday. He told me about a sermon he did on John the Baptist when he was a Curate at a well-to-do parish in Dublin. Unbeknown to the very proper elderly ladies sitting a couple of pews back from the front, a friend of his had been hiding behind the Communion Table from before the start of the service. This friend was dressed as near as possible to what John the Baptist would have looked like; he was all messy and dressed in old rags, looking like he had wandered in from the nearest desert. Right in the middle of the sermon at the pre-selected point of time, he jumped out and shouted at the top of his voice “Repent, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”. I’m told that the old ladies had such a shock that the preacher feared for their health. It took much apologising from both rector and curate to smooth things over afterwards!

You’ll be pleased to know that there are no hidden John the Baptists here this morning, behind the Communion Table or anywhere else!

Matthew tells us that John the Baptist came preaching in the desert. Here was a man who had given his life to God, and now God had a very important job for him to do. Firstly, he had to awaken the people to see their need to be converted and secondly he was going to introduce them to the Messiah, who would make it possible for the people to be converted.

If any of you have ever been to see a famous band or act such as U2, Lady Gaga or the Munster Ramblers :-/ perform, they will usually have what is known as a “support band”. This is a kind of “warm-up” act, to get everyone in the mood for the main performance. Usually however, people tend to ignore the support band and not bother coming out of the bar until the main performance starts. John is a bit like the warm-up act, though his job is infinitely more important. Perhaps a better example is whenever a head of state, such as a King or Queen does something important, they may be announced with a fanfare of trumpets, the red carpet will be rolled out, and people will have spent time beforehand making sure that everything is ready for the important person to arrive. This is exactly what John the Baptist is doing for the immanent arrival of the Lord Jesus and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. John is blowing Jesus’ trumpet and he’s laying out the red carpet to prepare the way for the coming Messiah.

So John went into the countryside all around the River Jordan and he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The word Repent in Greek is μετάνοία (metanoia), It means ‘to change one’s mind for the better, knowing that you have offended someone (in this case God) and to look with abhorrence on your past sins’ (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon). Of course, repentance then is not just once off, it must be the way of life for the Christian. Every day in prayer and through reading God’s word we allow Him to work in us to align us to His will, to His plan and purpose for our lives and to repent of our old way of living.

Baptism was nothing new. The Jewish people had for a long time performed a ceremonial washing of Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. The idea being that Gentiles were unclean and they needed to be washed before they could become one of God’s people. But here John is having the cheek to tell the Jewish people themselves that they needed to be washed, they too were unclean! But he’s saying to them, “Yes, you are unclean, but you can be forgiven, your sins can be washed away.” His audience would have been well aware of some wonderful verses in the Hebrew Scriptures that tell us about God’s forgiveness, for example:

As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
(Micah 7:19)

A family member told me about a dream they had once, where they were looking out to sea. The tide was out and in the mud there was lots of junk, you know the sort of thing, old shopping trolleys, washing machines and so on. The person understood these to represent all the junk in their life, in other words, all the sin. But then the tide turned, the sea came in and completely covered over all the junk. This represented what God does with our sins when we say “sorry” to Him. Even more than that, because in the dream the junk was still there under the surface – but God does much more than that, He removes our sin completely.

In other words, when God forgives, He sends our sins away to a place from which they can never be brought back. When we forgive someone, we might occasionally remind them of the bad thing that they did to us, thereby showing that we haven’t totally forgiven them at all. But God doesn’t do that. He doesn’t remind us of our sins, He completely wipes them out, so that they are no more, literally, as far as the east is from the west, or as if they had been cast into the depths of the sea.

Quoting from Isaiah, John says that there will be:

A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make his paths straight …’ The voice in the desert is of course John himself, but what does he mean when he says about making straight paths for the Lord? Perhaps that his audience should provide the Lord with ready access to their hearts and lives. May we let God’s access to us not be a windy narrow West Cork Boreen full of pot holes, but a highway where we openly welcome Him into our hearts and lives.

Later on, the Lord Jesus was to declare that John was in fact the most important of all the prophets. But even he is only a forerunner, he is only the one to announce the arrival of the coming King, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God and Saviour of the world.

John welcomed the King himself, and many people who heard John’s message also welcomed Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Let’s ask ourselves, how straight the paths are between us and God; are there obstacles in the way? Let’s be encouraged by John’s message. Let us allow ourselves to be converted, to repent, to walk in the direction of God’s will for our lives. If we’ve done this already, let’s keep going, and let us allow God by His grace to remove every obstacle in our lives that prevents us from having an increasingly full relationship with Him. Let us pray:

Lord God, you know our lives so completely, you know my life. You know the obstacles, all the pit falls, all that hinders my relationship with you. Lord there are things I try to hide, things that I am ashamed of, things I avoid; words I should say and words I shouldn’t, things I should do and things I shouldn’t … I give this all to you now and I say ‘sorry’ with all my heart. Help me Lord, help me every day to follow you, every day and every moment of my life now and into eternity. For the glory of Your Name. Amen.

——————————————————–
(1) http://yimcatholic.blogspot.com/2010/06/poem-on-st-john-baptists-day.html

April 18, 2010

Peter and Jesus

Photo notes:  This is a picture from about three years ago.  Much as I would like to have a picture of the shores of the Sea of Galilee, this is the next best thing, the north shore of Great Island!  The funny cartoonish effect (especially noticeable in the clouds and the trees) is HDR, the effect you get from combing three different exposures of the same scene into one.  This was achieved using a trial version of Photomatix.  
Today’s Sermon:  John 21:1-19
Have you ever let Jesus down?  If you have you will know how crushing the disappointment can be. But Jesus is not like anyone else – He doesn’t go off in a huff, He wants us back and living with Him and for Him once again.  
You may remember from last week that the Lord Jesus had appeared to the disciples previously, when they were all huddled together in a locked room.  You may remember ‘doubting Thomas’ seeing the risen Lord for himself, seeing the scars in Jesus’ hands left by the nails and the scar in his side left by the spear and how he exclaimed “My Lord and my God”.  Well if last week it was about Thomas’ encounter with Jesus then this week it is about Peter’s encounter.  
Peter had a very heavy heart.  He had denied his Lord and master three times.  He felt very bad about it, he was crushingly disappointed with himself.   Seeing Jesus again in that locked room brought him joy but it also brought him pain.  Just when his Friend needed him most, he three times denied to complete strangers that He even knew Jesus.  
Peter is hanging out with Thomas, Nathanael, the brothers James and John and two other disciples.  Peter wants to go fishing.  Perhaps returning to what he did before he met Jesus will help him in some way.  His friends say that they will go with him so, as the day is coming to a close they set out in a boat onto the sea of Galilee.  
It is a fruitless night, they catch nothing.  The fish are having none of it!  Early in the morning, as the darkness is lifting a little and the sun is thinking about poking its head over the horizon, Peter and the others see a man standing on the shore.  There is not enough light yet to see who it might be.  The man calls out to them saying
“Children, you have no fish, have you?”
They still don’t recognise the man or His voice.  
“No”, they answer.  
The man says: 
“Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some”  
Maybe at this point they are getting an inkling as to who this man might be.  A few years before something similar happened when Peter received his call from Jesus.  On that day he put his net into the water and was overwhelmed by the number of fish, but even more overwhelmed by this carpenter from Nazareth, to whom he had said “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).  But Jesus replied to him on that day  “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch people” (Luke 5:10).  That day, Peter had left his boat and hits nets and everything to follow Jesus.   
Now here we were again. Déjà vu.  They put the net over the right side of the boat just as the man said and what do you know, yes, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish!  
John looked at Peter and said “It is the Lord!”  Peter doesn’t hesitate, he loves Jesus, He loves Jesus with all his heart, he is so sorry for ever letting Him down, he so wants to see Him again, to talk to Him so that Jesus knows he is sorry.  Peter quickly puts on his clothes and jumps into the water.  Peter swims the hundred yards or so to the shore with the others coming behind him in the boat.  By the time the others arrive towing the bulging net of fish behind them, Peter is ashore with Jesus and a fire has been lit.  Jesus already has some fish cooking and some bread and He calls out to them to bring some of the fish that they have just caught.  Peter jumps aboard and helps pull the overflowing net ashore. John tells us that there were 153 large fish and is surprised that the net is not even torn.  Jesus calls them to come and have breakfast.  They all know that it is the Lord but they are afraid to ask.  Having breakfast on the beach with someone who has risen from the dead is not an everyday experience.  
Once they finish breakfast Jesus speaks to Peter and says:  
“Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”  Peter has desperately wanted this moment, this chance to try and restore his relationship with Jesus, but he is understandably also a little afraid.  He replies
“Yes Lord; you know that I love you.”  
Now the word ‘love’ in the Greek has subtle differences.  The word Jesus uses for love is agape which means a complete love that is even prepared to sacrifice oneself on behalf of the person you love, (for example Jesus’ love for us by sacrificing himself on a cross, or a parents love for their child).  Jesus asks Peter do you love me sacrificially, are you prepared to give up everything even your life to follow me?  
Peter replies “Yes Lord you know that I love you”.  Peter knows that he has made great claims before about following Jesus.  He had said to Him “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (Mark 14:31).  Now he says it from the heart and as best as he can “Yes Lord you know that I love you”.  But Peter does not say that he loves Jesus with agape sacrificial love, the word that he uses is phileo.  This is still love, but it is more an affectionate brotherly love.  
Jesus says to Peter, “Feed my lambs”.  Peter is to look after Jesus’ followers and to take care of them when He has gone.  Then Jesus says to Peter more directly;  
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  
Again Jesus uses the word agape for love.  Does Peter love Jesus fully and sacrificially.  Perhaps he does but he is not yet ready to openly admit it, perhaps for fear of letting Jesus down again.  He replies:  
“Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”  
Again Peter uses the affectionate Phileo word for love.  Again Jesus says to him “Tend my sheep”.  
Three times Peter denied Jesus, now to help restore their relationship Jesus asks Peter for the third time:  
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Jesus no longer uses the agape word for love, He uses Phileo.  In effect He is saying:  “Peter, Peter are you even my friend?”  Perhaps Peter is not quite ready to trust himself again after letting his Master and friend down so heavily before.  Peter is hurt and upset and perhaps doesn’t yet understand why Jesus is talking to him like this.  Peter can still only reply using the Phileo, brotherly love word as he replies for the third time saying:  
“Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
What a change has taken place in Peter.  This was a man who was full of life and energy and ultra-enthusiastic.  The sort of person who charged into everything, often without thinking first.  There was no keener follower of Jesus and yet when it came to the crunch, when he was asked publicly whether or not he was a follower of Jesus he had sworn that he was not (Matt. 26:72).  Peter was completely devastated by his behaviour.  He had wept bitterly (Matt. 26:75) it was perhaps the saddest moment of his life.  And now here Jesus had asked him three times whether he loved Him or not, once for each of the time that he had denied Jesus.  Peter is able to reply that yes he does love Jesus, but not as strongly as Jesus would like.  Peter is now perhaps being over cautious.  
But Jesus knows Peter’s heart.  For the third time He says to him: “Feed my sheep”.  Jesus knows that Peter does love Him, He knows that Peter will be a key leader in the Church.  He knows that Peter and the others will be given all the courage and strength that they need when the Spirit would come in power upon them on the day of Pentecost.  
Jesus knows the future.  He knows that Peter will love Him so much that, in the end he would give his life willingly and unquestioningly for Jesus.  (Legend tells us that Peter was crucified upside-down because he refused to killed in the same way that his master had.  Even at Peter’s death he was thinking about his Master’s glory.)   
And what about us?  Perhaps we can think of a time or times that we have let Jesus down, perhaps we have been ashamed or embarrassed to admit that we know Him as our Lord and Saviour.  Perhaps we worry that people will think we are a bit odd for doing so.  Yes if we deny Jesus we should be devastated for doing so – but that is not the end, like Peter, we can be restored and reconciled with Jesus, we only have to be willing to give Him our love and He will do the rest.  
To Peter Jesus said “Follow me”.  He says the same today to you and to me:  Come, Follow me… Amen.  
September 7, 2008

The Road to Forgiveness

The Road to Mombasa (1988)
Film Scan (Kodak G 100 ASA), Pentax P50, I’m guessing at 28mm

I’m often amazed at just how childish grown-ups can be sometimes. When we look at politicians debating with each other, refusing to listen to what the other is saying and resorting to just slagging each other off, it often has little more maturity or sophistication than a playground brawl. Unfortunately, we Christians seem to be right up there with the politicians when it comes to not listening to, not understanding and not forgiving each other. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve spoken to who don’t go to church because of a comment that was made to them (often many years ago) or because they sat in someone else’s seat and were belittled for doing so, or because the church building that they used to worship in has closed down and they are angry at those whose building remained open. I’m afraid to say I even watched an event a couple of years ago when some people who had newly moved into the parish sat in the seat of a well-known parishioner, who then proceeded to make a lot of fuss about it, even though there were many many other seats to choose from. Not surprisingly, those people have never been back. Ironically, even people who finally get around to coming back to church after a long absence are ‘welcomed’ (in inverted commas) in such a way as to not make them feel welcome but instead to feel bad for having been away! Of course I am telling just one side of the story, I am pleased to say that for every mishap like this, there is much that is good and that must bring delight to the Lord, such as the way that most visitors and newcomers are indeed made immediately to feel at home as they worship with us.

It saddens me when I visit a home that is fractured because of unforgiveness, nearly always due to a simple misunderstanding, often over a piece of land, or unnecessarily harsh words uttered in pain or distress and taken out of context by the one who was hurt. We are so easily hurt aren’t we, so proud, so ready to be forgiven by those we have wronged but so reluctant to forgive those we have trespassed against… ?

I am reminded of author Harper Lee’s classic book “To kill a Mockingbird”. A very important lesson that we learn from that book is the one that the father, Atticus tells to his children; that “in order to be able to understand a man you need to be able to ‘walk in his shoes’”. If we were willing to step into the shoes of a person whom we had wronged or who had wronged us we would understand their point of view and therefore be able to diffuse the situation much more quickly. For example if the offended visitors who sat in a parishioners seat were able to understand that that parishioner had sat in that very seat for many many years, that their spouse and children had sat with them there too, that the spouse was long dead and the children a long time flown the nest and that when the parishioner sat there on a Sunday morning to everyone else it looked as if they were sitting on their own but in actual fact to the parishioner it was as if their spouse was still sitting next to them and the children, in their Sunday best sitting in a row alongside… If the visitors had realised this then surely they would have not been offended to the extent of never coming back, in fact they might even have made it their duty to return in order to show their love and support for the parishioner in question. Now if the parishioner had been able to ‘step into the shoes’ of the visitors who had newly moved into the parish, it would be clear that there were many seats available and that it was quite all right to sit wheresoever they chose, surely we come to church to worship God, and things such as seats don’t matter – yes children may fight over seats in the classroom, but surely not mature adults!? They probably convinced themselves not to return because they didn’t want to worship in a church where seats were more important than visitors! But of course if only they had been able to step into the parishioners shoes and had seen things from the parishioners perspective and if only the parishioner had been able to step into the visitors’ shoes and seen things from their perspective then things would have turned out differently – they might even have become friends and now be sitting alongside each other to this day…

And how many other instances are similar to this? It’s hard for me to think of anyone in the parish who hasn’t at some time told me about how another parishioner has upset them at some stage – I’m serious, and often we’re talking about things that happened so long ago that the actual details of the disagreement have long since been forgotten!

When someone upsets us we naturally want revenge, we want to get our own back – we may not actually do anything but we may secretly rejoice when some kind of mishap comes to that person later on, we even convince ourselves that they deserved it!

Okay then what does the Lord Jesus think of that? Well He makes it very clear – He wants not revenge, but reconciliation, not dislike, but love. He says:

“If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back…”
(Matthew 18:15)

If someone wrongs us we want to get them back and we want to tell others in a gossipy kind of way what they have done, we try to turn other people against that person. But the best thing to do is not to tell anyone else at all, but to go and talk to that person directly, don’t phone or write or email, these are too impersonal, go directly to that person and as unaggressively and gently as possible talk with them and explain to them why you are hurt by what they said or did. Often such a humble and frank conversation will lead to a deepening and strengthening of the relationship that you have with them. It is much better to talk with the person rather than them hearing from someone else that you have gossiped to that you are upset with them…

Sometimes though the person will stand their ground and refuse to admit that they did anything wrong. Well, the Lord Jesus tells us what to do then, we take along two other persons with us as witnesses (v.16). Now these two other persons should not be body guards to ‘duff up’ the person who has wronged you, merely witnesses. The idea is that this will exert a little more pressure on the individual to admit their wrongdoing and thus be reconciled with you.

I must admit that I have no experience of stage two, just stage one, (where I have been both the wrongdoer and the person who has been wronged against). I have to admit that it isn’t very comfortable being told what you have done wrong and a close friend telling you how upset they are – but it is a very good environment to admit your mistake, just between the two of you rather than all sorts of other people being involved too.

Stage three is altogether more serious:

And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector. (v.17)

I don’t know if we have anyone from the Revenue Commissioners here, but be assured we love you because you are quite different from the type of tax collector that Jesus is talking about. Likewise any pagans, so long as you are not the child-sacrificing type you’re okay to stay too!

Certainly I have no experience of stage three, but of course we have all heard about or read about people who have had to be ejected from a Church community because of persistent, unrepentant wrongdoing. It is very sad and thankfully quite rare – sometimes the person is reconciled eventually to the Christian community, sometimes not.

In the last couple of verse from our reading (Matthew 18:15-20), the Lord Jesus reminds us of the greatest of all tools for mending broken relationships – prayer:

“And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.” (v.19,20)

How strange it is that an all-powerful God, who could so easily fix our human messes by Himself, actually does nothing unless someone, somewhere starts to pray! Perhaps He wants to give us the honour of working in partnership with Him?1

How many friendships would have remained intact, how many marriages not broken down, how many churches and Christian communities remained worshipping and living happily together if only they had listened and not shouted, if only they had stepped into the others shoes rather than on them and if only they had not fought or gossiped but prayed?

Let us pray now:

Lord, next time I’m involved in a quarrel and someone upsets me, remind me to tell you first, then the person who hurt me, but please prevent me from telling everyone else.2 Amen.

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1 From Scripture Union notes, “Closer to God”, vol. 23, p.80, 2004
2 Ibid.
Also helpful was Michael Green’s book: “Matthew for Today”, Hodder & Stoughton 1989