Thursday, April 14, 2005

Pagans and Tax collectors

This post has nothing to do with tomorrow - but last night. We were looking at Matt. 18:17 where Jesus says to treat the unrepentant person, unwilling to even respond to the loving concerns of the whole community, as a "pagan and tax collector".

I've always taken this instruction to mean "treat this person as a low-life, an outsider, an unwelcome person, a traitor, - an enemy, if you will." After all, Jesus is instructing us how to practice "church discipline." Church discipline has to be harsh. If a person won't follow, throw that person out and "shun" him. Of course, in love.

The question I asked myself yesterday, and the group last night, was "how did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?" Well . . . he loved them and invited them into the experience of God's reign. He showed them mercy and kindness. I can't find anywhere that Jesus treated these people as traitors or outsiders. He invited them to be insiders. I can't find where Jesus "shunned" them or rejected them in any way.

So what is the difference in how to treat them? Maybe it is the idea that disciples give one another the permission to correct, exhort, encourage, rebuke, and otherwise help each other. It is how we treat one another "on the journey" - but not those who aren't followers. We are not so presumptuous as to correct people when they aren't followers of Jesus. We invite them and love them. We don't hold them to the standards of a disciple when they aren't disciples.

A good question asked last night was 'what about tough love?' I am a big proponent of tough love in the sense that love is not always being nice to someone and making them happy - but love is always kind. Love says "no" sometimes: no to enabling, no to permissiveness, and no to the practice of people-hurting evil of all kinds.

Perhaps our "church discipline" ideas have gone overboard - like the Corinthians may have done after Paul's sharp words telling them to deal with their permissiveness in a matter of incest (1 Cor. 5:1-5) and then he had to urge them to forgive and comfort the offender (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

Our renewed commitment to discipleship to Christ calls us to reread the text and rethink our assumptions about dealing with sin as it appears among us (something few communities deal with). We would do better to hold tighter to love, and question not the love that says "no", but the idea of rejecting individuals in the name of love.

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