A reflection by Rev’d Rosie for Sunday 6th September
Readings: Romans 13.8-14 and Matthew 18.15-20
The idea of debt, even the word itself, I imagine makes many of us uncomfortable.
Even when nowadays it seems to be increasingly accepted culturally in the UK at least, with credit cards, mortgages, Student Loans, hire-purchase cars being part of everyday life for a large portion of the population – and depressingly for younger generations the likelihood of maybe never paying it off.
So how do we read Paul’s instruction to the Romans – “owe no one anything...” which echoes Jesus’s words to his disciples – even the line in the Lord’s prayer can be translated as “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
This concept of love being the currency – rather than actions or favours or material payment – would have been really hard for the early Christians and their contemporaries to grasp.
Owing and being owed was part and parcel of the culture. If you owed somebody something, you were socially or even legally bonded to them until you had repaid whatever it was, in whatever manner had been agreed.
Theologically too, those from a Jewish background would have been familiar with the system of abide by the Biblical Law, the 10 commandments etc, your works will earn your righteousness and your seat in heaven.
Those from Greek & Roman backgrounds generally had systems of making offerings of food or money to their deities – literally make a payment and if it is acceptable your request will be granted.
However today’s bible passages give us Jesus and St Paul trying to explain a very different kind of divine currency.
Instead the Christian way, is to give and to love – something that is very difficult to define, let alone quantify!
You can’t exactly run a kind of accounting system of “I have given this person 10 cubits of love today, therefore they owe me the same in return tomorrow.”
A wise old lady I used to know, who was a bit like a granny to me, always used to say “don’t pay it back, pay it forward.” She was the sort who didn’t have much, but she was always so generous – with her time, with hospitality, kindness.
It all boils down to relationships being based on that unconditional giving of love.
Jesus shows us the overflowing, abundant love of God which doesn’t ask for anything in return.
God’s gift of himself, in creating the universe of Godself, and in redemption in Christ’s death and resurrection, means that of course we cannot make an equivalent offering in return, out of duty or necessity.
It simply isn’t possible. And that’s the point.
In the gospel passage Jesus explains that if there’s a disagreement, it is best resolved personally, then if necessary with someone else as a mediator or second pair of eyes who might help see the bigger picture, or the other person’s perspective...
then only being brought to the larger group if necessary.
The primary goal is about restoring that relationship.
This seems like a different world from today where it seems like everyone feels entitled to splash their disagreements and vicious comments all over the papers and the internet and goodness knows where else.
I wonder what kind of a world it could be, if comments of love and encouragement and peace-making could instead make the front pages and overwhelm the likes of twitter and facebook.
This is the world Jesus proclaimed, and calls us to witness to in our own lives –
as St Paul puts it, to put on the armour of light –
to challenge the darkness of anger or resentment, and restore, build relationships with that attitude of overflowing love.
And having just mentioned social media, that’s where I’ll leave you. This week I saw a wonderful cartoon that seemed to fit very well with today’s theme.
It’s a picture of the heavenly throne, clouds, glory etc, and a very confused new angel who has just come through the pearly gates. Sat on the throne, however, is not the kindly, bearded, haloed old gentleman we would expect.
Instead, there is a Labrador in all his splendour.
He says to the angel, “the joyful, loving, eternally forgiving nature of dogs never tipped you off?”
I’m sure my pup Bracken agrees - maybe we can all take this inspiration to be a bit more dog – or God – in abundant living and our loving.