August 31, 2011
Gentiles and Tax Collectors
As I said earlier this week, the good Lord willing, I'm not preaching this Sunday. That being said, I'm not delving exegetically into the Gospel lesson as I normally would on a preaching week, therefore I'm not as up to date on the current debates surrounding Matthew 18:15-20 as I could be. But I bet I can guess what they're talking about. "If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector." It is the great question of church discipline. What do you do with the person who refuses to repent, acknowledge fault, seek forgiveness, is a stubborn pain in the...? Jesus tells us to treat that person like a Gentile and a tax collector. Fine. But treat them like who treats Gentiles and tax collectors? If we treat them like the Pharisees do, then we ignore them, leave them for dead, and pray that God never brings them and their rampant uncleanness back into our lives. If we treat them like the earliest of early church leaders did, then we pray that they might be converted to right living (and, in the case of Gentiles, expect circumcision to be a sign of that right living). I fear that these two understandings have dominated the interpretation of Matthew 18:15-20 for, I don't know, 1900+ years. Maybe not in the the ivory towers of academia, but certainly in (too) many pulpits. If we treat them like Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors... well, then we're screwed. We have to eat dinner with them. We have to talk with them when we see them. We have to engage them, and though that might be nice and dandy for Jesus, it is really, really hard for us. This, I think, is where grace comes in. And not that happy, clappy, white light, gentle breeze, peace pipe sort of grace, but the down and dirty incarnational kind of grace that puts that stubborn SOB in your path over and over and over again, until you have no choice but to summon every bit of strength the Holy Spirit has to offer and offer a handshake, a hug, a cup of coffee, you'll know the right course of action for this particular gentile and/or tax collector in your path. It ain't easy, folks, but its the way of the kingdom. No wonder so many of us choose to walk in the ways of the world.