He is With You

September 10, 2017

He Is With You

The following is a segment from an article by Rita Schiano from the Huffington Post.

“If you can tell a story about how you were wronged last month, last year, five, even 10 years ago with the same vehemence, anger, and ire, then you have not let go of it! What happened has happened. What was done is done. Over, finis.

Like a dog with a bone, we can gnaw on old wounds or injustices, reliving every detail over and over, thereby keeping them raw in our minds. Picking at our painful past keeps us from healing psychically and emotionally and threatens our physical health. Letting go increases physical and emotional well-being.

Holding on to hurtful memories appears to affect the cardiovascular and nervous systems. In a study conducted by the Psychology Department at Hope College, people who nursed a grudge had elevated blood pressure and heart rates, as well as increased muscle tension and feelings of being less in control. When asked to imagine forgiving the person who had hurt them, the participants said they felt more positive and relaxed, and thus the changes dissipated.”

From: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rita-schiano/letting-go-of-yesterdays-hurts_b_870633.html

Holding on to the hurt that is caused by another person’s sin, left unaddressed, can not only be detrimental to our bodies but also our souls. That is one reason the passage we read this morning is so important.

In today’s reading, we see quite clearly that God knows that we will all, at some time, be negatively affected by the sin of another and feel that we must confront the one who has harmed us. In this passage, Jesus tells us how to do that. First, we are to bring it out into the open with the individual. We aren’t supposed to let it eat away at us so it can fester and grow. We aren’t supposed to talk about it with other people, but go directly to the person who has hurt us. Then, if agreement is not reached, He encourages us to get a few others involved as witnesses and supporters. If that still doesn’t work, we are to bring the matter before the church,  fellow Christians who will try to look at the matter from a Christian point of view and attempt to resolve the issue in a way that would please the Lord. If that doesn’t work, we are to treat that person like a Gentile or a tax collector, for “whatever we bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

It's tempting to just ignore the final segment of this passage, the one about binding and loosing, but it’s important to this passage because the idea of “binding and loosing” gives general guidelines for negotiating or working with people in a Christian manner. It sounds as though it should be a phrase we understand easily, but what does it really mean? In Jesus’ time, binding and loosing was the process Rabbis employed to study scripture for its meaning and then explain it to people so they could apply it in their lives. Sometimes, they would take scripture and make it a little tougher on people. That was binding because, often, a law would be expanded. A law that involved the statement of one item would be bound to another, making it a more restrictive commandment. Jesus did it in the Sermon on the Mount. “Thou shall not commit murder’” was bound, or expanded, to include anger toward another. He expanded the command to love your neighbor to loving your enemy as well. Conversely, loosing gave people more freedom by emphasizing the intent of the commandments. For example, Jesus loosed the Sabbath law by allowing the harvesting of grain by hand and healing people on that holy day when no work was supposed to be done. Jesus, as a rabbi, took the law and applied it to daily practical issues of morality—loosening the grip of some rules and tightening and extending others. He never disposed of the law, but applied it to real-life through the process of binding and loosing.  We heard the very same phrase about binding and loosing a couple of weeks ago when Jesus said to Peter: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This brings to mind the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  When Jesus tells us that what we bind and loose on earth will be bound and loosed in heaven He is telling us that when dealing with conflict, we should do on earth as we wish it to be in heaven. We are to judge as we wish to be judged and forgive as we wish to be forgiven. When confronting someone about their sin and how it has hurt us, we must proceed with the patience, hope and love we wish to receive from our Lord when He has been hurt by our sin. When you are tempted to lose patience with someone, remember how patient God has been with you.

The sequence of attempts to reason with one who has hurt us or is hurting themselves or others through sin prescribed by Jesus in today’s scripture seems fairly logical. Jesus recommends that we work progressively from a one on one basis to a stage where the Christian community is involved if necessary. He suggests that we keep it as private as possible until we need others to verify what’s been said by both parties or to allow for others to try to persuade the person through Christian fellowship and love. At the end of the passage, we hear words that do not sound like they came out of the mouth of Jesus Christ. If the one who has sinned against us still does not listen after all of our attempts, we are to treat them like some of the most disrespected people of Jesus’ time: the unclean, pagan Gentiles or the filthy, cheating tax collectors. That doesn’t sound much like Jesus: “If you’ve done all you can to try to help this sinner see the error or his ways and understand how they have hurt you and they still refuse to listen, JUST GIVE UP! You tried! They are obviously not worth anyone’s time!”  Is THAT what Jesus is saying here? If so, the implication is that there is a point at which Jesus advises us to give up on someone. Does THAT sound like the Jesus you know? 

It’s not the Jesus I know. So, what does He mean?

The following quote is by Karl Jacobsen, Associate Pastor of the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Minneapolis Minnesota.

In this passage, “Jesus says, essentially, that being a member of the church means you have a responsibility. If your sheep gets lost you don't look for an hour and call it quits. You get out there and find that sheep. If your brother sins against you seventy-seven times, that's how many times you forgive him.”

If all other attempts have failed, we must take the long-term approach.

How did Jesus treat those who were detested and rejected, the tax collector and the prostitute? He sat down and had dinner with them. He knew they were sinners, just as we are all sinners. He sought them out because His heart wept for their lost souls. He held on to the hope that they would, finally hear His message, His call, and, as His sheep, come to follow Him. As we meet with those who have sinned against us, as we try to reason with them and help them see the error of their ways, how they have hurt us or others, whether it is just the two of you, a few of you or the entire church, we must take that same approach. We must work together out of our love for our neighbor, our hope that he will rejoin the flock and when two or more of us are gathered in His name Jesus will be there with us helping us to call His sheep home to Him.

We work for Jesus. If we truly want to do His work, instead of rejecting one who has sinned against us and allowing it to continue to hurt us and build an anger filled barrier between ourselves and God, let us treat that person as Jesus would have with forgiveness, hope and love. “Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” He hears our prayers for the souls of others. He will answer those prayers. As the Australian theologian James Sidlow Baxter said, “Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons -- but they are helpless against our prayers.” Let us never allow our conflicts bring us down paths of anger and bitterness, away from our Lord, but rather, let us use them as opportunities to come together as Christians to hope, love and pray for His lost sheep and help our Lord call them back into His fold.

Norma Goff