Monday, February 8, 2010
Treat Them as You Would a Tax Collector!
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
How many times have you heard sermons dealing with the above words of Jesus as justification for giving people in the church the boot?
I do not think this is what Jesus had in mind. In this post I am not discussing whether or not people should or shouldn’t be asked to leave churches or what offenses are “bad” enough to get you thrown out, but rather about how I believe that this text has been misused.
First of all the text is talking about if a person “sins against YOU” not an offense against a church, for the church wasn’t even established.
Second, people usually interpret the above verses as steps leading up to the point when you can say “no more, I am done with you.” This is also not so.
When someone is “dismissed” from church, I have heard many times, “well, Jesus does say, ‘go to them one on one, then take a witness or two, then bring them in front of the people. If those things don’t work, then kick them out.' But what does the end of the text actually say? It doesn’t say excommunicate them, instead it says to treat them as a tax collector. So maybe how we feel about "tax collectors" and "Pagans" heavily influences the way we read this text.
So the question is how did Jesus treat tax collectors? Well he invites them to dinner, notices them in crowds and brings them down from the trees, commands them to follow him, and even makes them into disciples. I do not recall Jesus ever breaking fellowship with a tax collector, but instead pursues them more intensely.
If this were a text about how many times is too many times before we give them the boot then it doesn’t fit with the surrounding narrative. For we find the “parable of the lost sheep” in the text right before “a brother who sins against you.” A parable about how far Jesus will go to bring back the one that has strayed.
To me, however, the most convincing evidence that this text is about unconditional acceptance rather than limits on acceptance is the conversation between Peter and Jesus that immediately follows it.
Peter asked Jesus, “How many times should I forgive my brother if he sins against me?” If we take the “excommunicate” interpretation then Jesus’ answer should have been 4 times, but that’s not the case. Instead Jesus essentially says, “as many times as it takes.”
I like how “The Message” reads… "If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love.”
Maybe the way we interpret this text says a lot about what we think of “tax collectors” aka “sinners.”