Matthew 18:15-20 Romans 13:8-end
13th Sunday after Trinity
There’s an interesting juxtaposition in today’s readings: Matthew’s Gospel and the letter to the Romans talking about what it means to love in the Christian sense, one from the point of discord and one from the point of harmony.
Jesus’ words from Matthew 18 tell us that a dispute among believers should be handled with care and compassion, but, equally, that there is no remedy for those who don’t wish to accept responsibility for their actions. That there is a limit to grace if it’s not accepted.
Paul, in his letter to the Romans chapter 13, speaks about the love we owe to one another: ‘Love does no wrong to a neighbour’. And then he finishes this part by saying that we need to live responsibly, as if always in the light.
Love, dispute, how do they relate? And what do we learn from all this?
It’s always struck me that the best stories are those about redemption. Where everything goes wrong at first, but turns out well at the end. How people are coming through pain to perfection. Sometimes with the scars to prove it, but scars that have turned into signs of hope.
I have to confess that I am not a fan of soap operas. For one, I can’t believe the slow pace of some and why the characters would do certain things. And I marvel at the patience of others, who are happy to watch how, after twenty episodes, they are still only at their second cup of tea. But then, I am probably being unkind. And I have learned that these stories do have something helpful to say.
First of all, they often include scenes of conflict: painful disagreements between family members and close friends, who then find that the solution to the problems is honestly opening up the situation by talking things through. This requires courage in laying it out on the table. Then, once all parties have been able to explain, confess and forgive, there is a way forward, in the renewal of relationship. Reconciliation is possible when two people or parties address a situation with honesty and humbly take responsibility. It’s what Jesus talks about in the Gospel, and what is also addressed in the epistles of the New Testament. Perhaps we could say: it’s the whole issue of humankind and what the Bible has been written to address, reconciliation mainly between God and human beings and between people.
Secondly, stories of redemption, including the soaps, offer a view of what it means to love. They say that love heals all wounds, in the course of time. I don’t want to overemphasize sentimentality, and I recognize that we can see those things in ways that are too simplistic. But we can see that living in the light means living in love. That means giving up on selfish desires that hurt others as well as ourselves in the long run. It means forgiving and moving on.
Reconciliation is a huge issue at the moment. On the larger scale, in society, but also in smaller communities and in families. Black Lives Matter; Extinction Rebellion; civil unrest and refugees trying to escape death. Destitution, poverty, abuse, inequality – where does it all end? Maybe we should ask: where does the end begin? Maybe it begins here:
‘Where two or three are gathered in my [Jesus’] name, I am there among them.’ ‘If two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.’ ‘Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbour as yourself.’ ‘Love is the fulfilling of the law’. I didn’t think this up myself, and all the soaps in the world couldn’t say it better. But we would do well to listen, and see where the word of God himself is pointing: a new way of living, in harmony and peace, with him and our neighbours.
Let us pray, in the words of the hymn:
Lord, make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord,
And where there’s doubt, true faith in you.
O Master, grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love with all my soul.