This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
YOUNG ROMA BEATEN ALMOST TO DEATH BY FRENCH LYNCH MOB
12 Jesus asked, What do you think? If a person owns a hundred sheep, and one of them strays, will the person not leave the ninety-nine on the hills, and go and search for the one that is straying? 13 And, if they succeed in finding it, I tell you that they rejoice more over that one sheep than over the ninety-nine which did not stray. 14 So, too, it is the will of my Father who is in heaven that not one of these little ones should be lost.
15 If your brother or sister does wrong, go to them and convince them of their fault when you are both alone. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But, if they do not listen to you, take with you one or two others, so that ‘on the evidence of two or three witnesses, every word may be put beyond dispute.’ 17 If they refuse to listen to them, speak to the church; and, if they also refuse to listen to the church, treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax-gatherer.
18 I tell you, all that you forbid on earth will be held in heaven to be forbidden, and all that you allow on earth will be held in heaven to be allowed. 19 Again, I tell you that, if but two of you on earth agree as to what they will pray for, whatever it be, it will be granted them by my Father who is in heaven. 20 For where two or three have come together in my name, I am present with them.”
21 Then Peter came up, and said to Jesus: “Master, how often am I to forgive someone who wrongs me? As many as seven times?” 22 But Jesus answered: “Not seven times, but ‘seventy times seven.’ 23 Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he had begun to do so, one of them was brought to him who owed him ten thousand bags of gold; 25 and, as he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold towards the payment of the debt, together with his wife, and his children, and everything that he had. 26 The servant threw himself down on the ground before him and said ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.’ 27 The master was moved with compassion; and he let him go, and forgave him the debt. 28 But, on going out, that same servant came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. Seizing him by the throat, he said ‘Pay what you owe me.’ 29 His fellow servant threw himself on the ground and begged for mercy. ‘Have patience with me,’ he said, ‘and I will pay you.’ 30 But the other would not, but went and put him in prison until he should pay his debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and went to their master and laid the whole matter before him. 32 So the master sent for the servant, and said to him ‘You wicked servant! When you begged me for mercy, I forgave you the whole of that debt. 33 Shouldn’t you, also, to have shown mercy to your fellow servant, just as I showed mercy to you?’ 34 Then his master, in anger, handed him over to the jailers, until he should pay the whole of his debt. 35 So, also, will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each one of you forgives his brother or sister from your heart.”
The passage I blogged yesterday, of which this is a continuation, established the term “little one” as the right description of a disciple who has accpeted Jesus’ command to become like a child. Any desire for upward mobility, any arrogant assumption has to be left behind. In today’s passage the concept of the “little one” is still to the fore. The parable of the lost sheep shows that if little ones stray, as they will, the shepherd will come seeking them, and will find happiness in the rescue. The shepherd is not hunting with gritted teeth: seeking, finding and restoring is his business.
The community of little ones is told how to prevent a brother or sister from harming others; the detailed proceedure gives time for reconsideration by both the offender and the community. Treating someone like a “gentile or tax-collector” simply means viewing them (for the moment) as an oustider. Being a little one means respecting the judgment of the community. Such an assembly ( a better translation than “church”) has to make its own judgments, and as God is relying on its witness in the world, God will respect its judgments and answer the prayers of even two of its members, for where two little ones come together under the authority of Jesus, he will be present.
The parable of the unforgiving servant puts Peter’s question about the obligation to forgive in context. In effect Jesus tells Peter to remember who he is: a little one with a track record of going astray, of needing to be found and forgiven. Such a servant should learn the master’s compassion. If however he chooses to be a hard-faced bully, he will become a target of the master’s wrath.
Much modern discourse on the topic of forgiveness speaks of the nature of hurt, the need for time, healing and recovery, and the understanding that nobody shoiuld be pushed to forgive. Jesus’ teaching is uncompromising: forgiveness is the first duty and it is commanded. The wrong done is described as a debt, because the wrong done to us elevates us above the offender to a height from which we can demand payment, like a master. We cease to be a little one. But if the master has abdicated that power in favour of mercy, we also must do so. We are not given the option of refusing forgiveness. We can be angry, we can resist any aggression from the offender, we can refuse any excuses, but we must forgive. Only then can healing begin. Only those who have learned how to be little ones together are given this command. It requires a long training in being forgiven sinners and daily use of the prayer, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
When people tell me they can be Christians without belonging to a church community, I reckon they are not talking about their willingness to obey this command. I’m not saying that church communities are the only place where this ability can be learned-there are many others- but I know that I would not have learned it even to the small degree that I have, without the little ones of the church.
Again and again, Matthew faces the reader with the uniqueness and clarity of Jesus’ Way.