Squirm

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive

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Read: Matthew 18

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. … If they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15a,17b)

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Reflect:

All eyes must have turned to Matthew, the ex-tax collector, as Jesus gave his advice for dealing with unrepentant sinners. No matter how much Matthew squirmed, though, he still recorded Jesus’ words in his gospel.

Jesus gave three steps of increasingly public rebuke before increasing authority for drawing a sinner’s attention to their own sin. This process gives people an opportunity to recognise and admit their own sin. There’s a reason the saying “blind to their faults” is a saying. Then this person is able to repent privately instead of letting the matter go public.

But ultimately, an unrepentant sinner needs to experience some earthly penalty, or they will go on unrepentant towards the ultimate penalty of all, hell. In this case, social exclusion (from the church) provides a punishment that will hopefully be recognised as the metaphor it is; symbolising the exclusion from God’s presence that an unrepentant sinner risks. Social exclusion such as not eating with the person and not entering their house, while still allowing for public conversation, has the benefit of shielding brothers and sisters in the church from the harm that the sinner’s behaviour might wreak.

Matthew chose to place next in his gospel Jesus’ advice for how often one should forgive sin. Now it’s Peter’s turn to squirm. “Seventy-seven times,” Jesus says. He’s not just multiplying Peter’s suggested seven times by eleven. Rather, Jesus is making reference too the story of Lamech the murderer (Genesis 4:19-24)* who killed instead of offering forgiveness for personal injury, and claimed seventy-seven times vengeance.

As outrageously unrepentant as Lamech was for his crimes, so you are to be just as outrageously forgiving of another’s crimes against you, Jesus seems to say.

crux:

Those who have sinned must repent; those sinned against must forgive.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

“Against you only have I sinned” … yet I have hurt and wounded many with harsh words and hard deeds. I repent of my sin. Please forgive me LORD. Make a clean heart within me and change my ways.

Please allow others in my church who are close to me to observe my sin and rebuke me for it. Make me humble enough to accept such rebuke and be corrected.

LORD, I don’t want to be like Lamech, desiring vengeance. Make my heart soft and tender, eager and willing to forgive. Please help me to love my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ with the forgiveness that covers over wrongs, for your glory.

Amen.

 

* For this insight I must thank Lois Tverberg and Ann Spangler, authors of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus (2009, Zondervan) pp. 38-39, which I am currently reading.

Treasure

Jesus’ teaching is treasure for his disciples, then and now

Read: Matthew 13

The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.” (Matthew 13:10-11)

“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked.
“Yes,” they replied.
He said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom is like the owner of a house who brings out of the storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:51-52)

Reflect:

At a certain point in his ministry, Jesus moved from teaching openly about how God’s people should live (eg Matthew 5-7), providing a rabbinical commentary on the Mosaic Law, to speaking in parables about the ways God’s people did live and would be judged, providing a commentary on the society in which he lived and their relationship to their God.

Jesus gave his closest followers, those he’d selected to be his disciples, enough explanation to understand his parables. But the mystery must have infuriated Jesus’ opponents. How could they openly rebuke him when admitting they understood his veiled criticisms applied to themselves meant admitting his criticisms were valid?

Jesus ensured his disciples understood his parables, and described his teaching as new treasure to supplement the old treasure of the rabbis’ teaching on the Tanak, the Old Testament.

crux:

Jesus’ teaching is treasure for his disciples, both then and now.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

Thank you for Jesus Christ, the radiance of your glory, the ultimate rabbi. Thank you for his teaching, so faithfully recorded by Matthew and the other gospel writers.

Please help me to treasure Jesus’ teaching. Please help me to understand Jesus’ parables and see myself in them where you see me – where I truly am, not where I’d like to believe I am.

Please teach me through Jesus’ parables. Teach me to value money and possessions less, and your kingdom more. Teach me to pay attention to your word and to not allow lack of understanding, trouble and persecution, worries or wealth to prevent your word bearing fruit in my life. Teach me to allow your word and your ways to spread through my whole life like yeast through dough, until there is no part of my life not changed to be like your Son. Teach me to be shrewd, yet innocent, with regard to the “weeds” in my local “paddock”.

Amen.

Acknowledge

I go to the Scriptures to learn to acknowledge God

Read: Matthew 9

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6)

Reflect:

The Pharisees did not understand why Jesus had come. He was going about as a rabbi, calling people to be his disciples with the words, “Follow me” (9:9). Yet this Jesus was not selective, not discriminating in his choice of disciples as other rabbis must have been. Jesus called Matthew, a tax collector – a greedy Roman collaborator, the Pharisees probably thought – to follow him. The crowds who heard Jesus preach and saw him heal were filled with awe (9:7). If Jesus was setting himself up as a Rabbi among rabbis, why was he choosing a tax collector to be his disciple, then eating with Matthew’s notorious, deplorable associates?

The answer lay in Jesus’ mission. Jesus was there to help, so he met with those needing his help.

In response to the criticism of the Pharisees, Jesus quoted Hosea, who prophesied to an unrepentant people, to show that God values mercy (help for the helpless) above religious artifice. But Jesus’ rebuke was even more pointed than the obvious point that the Pharisees were unmerciful and unrepentant and in need of his help. He told the Pharisees to go and study this passage from Hosea.

If the Pharisees had gone to the writings of Hosea, they would learn that the passage called God’s people to acknowledge him:

“Let us acknowledge the LORD;
Let us press on to acknowledge him.
As surely as the sun rises,
he will appear;
he will come to us like the winter rains.” (Hosea 6:3)

The LORD had appeared, he had come to them: like winter rain for a parched land, like a doctor to the desperately ill, like a rabbi to the untaught rabble. The LORD had come to offer mercy and the Pharisees were too self-righteous, too enmeshed in their interpretation of the Law to acknowledge the God who fulfilled that Law.

crux:

I go to the Scriptures to learn to acknowledge God.

Respond:

LORD God Almighty,

I acknowledge you. You are God. Father, Son and Spirit. You are the LORD, the I AM, Yahweh.

I acknowledge Jesus Christ. I accept he exists and admit he is true.

I also acknowledge that I am a sinner in need of Jesus to justify me.

Thank you that Jesus called Matthew to be his disciple. Thank you for calling me to be Jesus’ disciple also.

May I follow Jesus as I read, reflect on and respond to the words Matthew wrote about his rabbi. May I learn, as Matthew learned, to acknowledge my God, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, my Saviour.

May I, like Matthew, open my house with hospitality so that others may come and meet Jesus and learn to acknowledge him as God.

Amen.