Prayer before reading:
Lord Jesus Christ,
You call us to come
To be with you.
By your Spirit help me
To see you,
To hear you,
To receive your Spirit,
To be led by your Spirit.
Read slowly. Listen deeply. Indwell the scripture.
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Following several days in retreat with Jesus and his disciples in the mountains north of the Sea of Galilee, our lectionary guide leads us now to Capernaum, that lakeshore town which Jesus has chosen for his home-base for almost three years. The disciples are feeling uneasy. While on retreat Jesus had told them what would happen to him while in Jerusalem for the great feast of the Passover: he would “undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21) As they arrive to Galilee he tells them again, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised.” (Matthew 17:22,23) This One they have been drawn to, this Messiah – the chosen One of God who will deliver God’s people and inaugurate the Kingdom of God in the world – now speaks of betrayal, suffering, death . . . . They are unable to hear or comprehend words about being raised on the third day.
Still caught in their triumphal vision of Jesus’ mission, they gather around Jesus in Simon Peter’s house and ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” These twelve followers of the Messiah had been arguing about which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest on their way to Capernaum(Mark 9:33-34; Luke 22:24); hence Jesus’ offering of spiritual guidance regarding attitudes and relationships among his followers. As we enter the eighteenth chapter of Matthew we hear – and see – how Jesus calls them, and us, to become aware of our inner attitude, to discern the fault lines in our soul, those gaps in our loving and awareness which block our relationships and harm community. Jesus tends here to relational ethics among his followers.
Our lectionary guide draws our attention to Jesus’ guidance in vv.15-20. Ancient manuscripts do not use the word “church” (v.15), but rather say, “If a brother (or sister) sins against you . . . “ There are times when we are wronged, when another does something which causes us suffering, tension, stress. Rather than mulling over the wrong doing, and becoming angry, bitter, or depressed, Jesus tells us to talk about it; to go to the brother or sister who has done this wrong, and to seek to restore the bond of fellowship and peace between you.
This may work. But if it doesn’t, then invite one or two others to help mediate the conversation – to listen deeply to you and to the other person – and to bring the light of their listening and discernment to shine on what is not seen or owned.
Often this does work. Mediation is a valuable approach. But if mediation fails, then Jesus calls on us to speak our need to the larger believing community. This may then serve to restore relationships. But it this doesn’t work, what then? And how are we to see what is happening within us when we refuse to own our wrong. Jesus says we are behaving as a Gentile and tax collector.
Now it is true that Jesus had compassion on these persons: those who did not belong to the Jewish community of faith, and those who were employed by the occupying forces of the Romans to collect taxes which would serve to sustain the military presence within Israel. But more so, these tax collectors would demand more than what was owed, so as to profit from their own people in the name of a gentile power.
If we pause to reflect a little more deeply on what is happening here, we may discern that the powers which hold us captive – which occupy our soul this side of Eden – are not eager to release us. Rather, they hold us hostage to defending our wrong-doing, to refusal to admit wrong – because of pride, fear, or even because of spite. It would mean losing face, or admitting weakness to admit wrongdoing. We become full of self-protecting reasons and arguments as a means of self-defense. But not only are we being occupied by a power other than God, we are also inflicting a cost on our brother or sister. As we refuse to be restored in relationship, we make a profit at their expense. They suffer.
Hence Jesus calls us to see ourselves and what is happening within us – in order to be able to both confess our wrong-doing and so mend the gap in relationship, and to discern what is happening when no matter how we try, the other person or group refuses. Jesus invites us to walk away, to see what is happening within.
Since none of us is truly righteous, we all suffer in some way from the power of this alien occupation. This is where we need to be rescued – all of us. And this is why Jesus came, to rescue us from such powers. Hence his presence as we meet – he is in the midst. We are never along when these kind of conversations happen, Jesus is with us. The kingdom of heaven is among us. And if the other person does not relent at this time, we can commit them and the desire for restoration to Jesus, and in love and patient endurance wait for that work of salvation to happen. This is when the prayer Jesus teaches his followers takes on new meaning, Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. . . . Help us discern temptation and forgive us our sins as we forgive others who sin against us. Deliver us from evil. For yours is the power, the kingdom, and the glory, forever. Amen.
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost:
- 8/29 Monday: Matthew 18:15-20
- 8/30 Tuesday: Matthew 18:15-20
- 8/31 Wednesday: Psalm 119:33-40
- 9/1 Thursday: Romans 13:8-14
- 9/2 Friday: Exodus 12:1-4
- 9/3 Saturday: Matthew 18:15-20
- 9/4 Sunday: Matthew 18:15-20