Reflection on 23rd Sunday: 6th September 2020

Forgiveness

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” These words have appeared in the gospel 3 times in the past few Sundays.. Today, Jesus is not just addressing Peter, he is talking to all ‘his disciples’; he is talking to us. We have the power to bind one another up by our unforgiveness, gossip, criticism, negativity. We have the power to loose and release one another from those bonds by the mystery of forgiveness. Nothing new happens without forgiveness. Without forgiveness, we remain frozen in the past, frozen in our negative memories, frozen in anger. Unless we become people who let go of our past, let go of our hurts, we just keep repeating that past over and over again. Forgiveness is the only way to free ourselves from the entrapment of the past. Forgiveness is God’s job description: to unbind, to free us so that something new can happen.

We may initially wonder if forgiveness is being advocated in Jesus’ words at the beginning of this gospel reading where he says that if a person refuses to repent after a process that involved three different encounters calling for repentance, then he should be “treated like a pagan or tax collector”. What is our immediate understanding of these words? Many of us would say that it means that the offender must be put out from the community and be regarded as an outsider and we would justify our decision by saying that this drastic and final step was to be taken not in a spirit of revenge or vindictiveness but out of real concern for the wellbeing of the whole community. Let’s read that verse again. Jesus said, “Treat him like a pagan or tax collector.” How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?………. Jesus showed them unending love and respect. He treated them with the dignity that was due to someone created in the image of God. When we speak and act with love, God will act through our words, our actions, our attitudes, our gestures. “Whenever two or three of you are gathered in the right spirit, there I am.” Forgiveness could almost be described as the very name of God.

Richard Rohr and an unknown source

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”