Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20
Today Jesus gives us some practical advice when someone in the community does wrong. For all its wisdom, it is not fool-proof. Jesus describes three steps, addressing what to do when someone will not listen; but even the third attempt may not resolve the situation.
Why? At each step Jesus allows this individual what we are reluctant to allow: his or her freedom. God does this all the time with us. God reveals what is best for us but leaves it totally up to us whether we co-operate or not.
Why does God act like this? Because I only do good when I do it freely, whole-heartedly. God wants me to be good as God is good: freely. God won’t coerce me to do good things; God would that I be good, because that’s the best way to be.
Whether people are good or evil, that’s out of my control. And Jesus seems to recognize this in his advice today about the brethren when they go wrong. I live in a world over which I have very little control. I feel that facing natural disasters. I Feel it in the polarized political climate we now live in. I feel it in the Church when so many people want to see anyone who disagrees with them punished; or turn their backs on God precisely because he won’t coerce everyone to behave well.
Towards the end of his Gospel, Matthew gives us two examples of abused freedom: Judas and Peter. Both betray Jesus.
Of the four Gospels, Matthew portrays Judas in the most nuanced, sympathetic way; Judas is horrified by what he’s done: I’ve betrayed an innocent man! He flings the thirty pieces of silver back at the officials who bribed him with it. The shame crushes him and he hangs himself. What a pathetic tragedy!
But that’s not the only outcome of freedom abused.
Peter betrayed Jesus casually–and three times–even after being warned that he would. He too was horrified; and he went out and wept bitterly. He didn’t hang himself. He was there, frightened and ashamed, but waiting with the other apostles. And the Risen Lord came to them.
That’s where this God-given freedom can lead us.