7th September 2014. Trinity 12. – A. Itchen Abbas 6pm – Healing & Wholeness service. Matthew 18.15-20. Forgiving is healing
It was with some concern that I looked up the gospel listed for today. What can be a very good Bible passage to preach on at our regular services might well not be appropriate for this particular service with its focus on healing and wholeness. In fact I was prepared to change the reading if necessary. At very first glance I thought I might have to do that but a little bit of prayer and thought quickly changed my mind.
Jesus’ teaching is a message that Matthew has taken on board as vital for the very early church of Jewish converts for whom he was writing his gospel. He could see that disagreements within the church would be really dangerous to its survival. There they are trying to follow Jesus whilst their Jewish brethren who had not turned to Jesus were looking for any excuse to prove the converts wrong. Arguments and fallings out in the church would be just the sort of behaviour that would be jumped on. So Matthew lists in detail the advice Jesus had given about achieving forgiveness and reconciliation within the church.
Firstly the aggrieved party should talk to the offender privately. Hopefully that would work. If it didn’t then the aggrieved party should take along a witness so that the truth of the encounter could be verified. At this point of course the witness might have to point out to the aggrieved party that there is fault on both sides. In any hurt that often proves to be the case. If reconciliation still cannot be achieved then the situation should be put to the whole church locally. Finally if the offender is guilty but will not repent he or she the text indicates that she or he should be made to leave the church although it might also mean that s/heis to be treated as Jesus treated the tax collectors – with love and compassion.
All this is so that the offender can repent, the aggrieved party can forgive and reconciliation occur. To modern ears it actually might not sound very Christian. There is a wide spread belief that as Christians we should put up with anything. If we are hurt or insulted we should just accept it and then put it behind us. As we can see from our gospel reading that is not Jesus’ prescription of forgiveness. Unsurprisingly Jesus is right. Pretending the situation does not exist is a complete waste of time. It is like putting a sticking plaster on a deep seated wound. It might cover up the wound in the short term but the wound will not heal.
We have seen a marvellous example of forgiveness and reconciliation in the church recently. ++Justin, with his long experience of reconciliation around the world, managed a process that enabled the approval of women bishops to go through General Synod with a far bigger majority in the house of laity than had been expected.
However, it is not always possible to achieve this type of reconciliation and forgiveness. In my life I know there have been times of great hurt where the perpetrator has been totally unwilling even to discuss the matter. I have also seen this at times when I have attempted to mediate between two hurt people. Sadly both parties were sometimes content to hold on to their hurts rather than forgive each other.
In those types of situations we can be left really hurting. We then have a choice. We can either live with the hurt or we can forgive even though there is not repentance from the other person. Forgiveness can be described as good being returned for evil done. What the good will be will depend on the circumstances. Often it is a change of attitude towards the perpetrator or a non-judgemental generosity to the perpetrator. It might be finding more out about the perpetrator so gaining some insight as to why she or he behaved in the way they did.
However forgiveness is acted out, its purpose is to liberate the victim from the past. If there is repentance by the perpetrator then forgiveness will liberate both from the past. Neither party is likely to forget. That is not what forgiveness is about despite the old saying “forgive and forget”. What forgiveness does is to prevent the wrong shaping our future. If we are victims, forgiveness stops us holding on to the wrong allowing it to corrode us inside.
It is what goes on inside us that is vital. The Holy Spirit gives us several gifts of including love, peace and joy. If we are holding on to past hurts we cannot be open to receive those gifts. It is when we receive those gifts and allow them to dwell in us that we are truly whole. We might still face tough external circumstances such as ill health but with forgiveness allowing love, joy and peace to dwell inside us we will find we have healing in its truest sense.