“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” –Romans 13:8
I have been really interested in the work of Jean Luc
Marion for the last 10 years. It is from
him that I have made the concepts of idol and icon part of my life and way of
interpreting the scriptures. A while
back I went to hear him speak at the
Long story really shortened he went on and on about how people could relate to each other in love. I was listening and thinking how wonderful it would be. Then at the end he finished by saying that all this was impossible because people are incapable of it and that we need the also by nature corrupt state to maintain police, courts and prisons to save us from chaos.
I’m fairly certain that he is right. People in general are prone to making bad choices and to make themselves feel better they assert that God approves of their bad choices. Which I think has led to the generalized hopelessness that many of us feel.
I think that Paul realized that the government is a brittle reed that we should not lean on too heavily, even though we pay for it and use it. For Christians the government is an institution to which we give a soft and tentative Yes and a loud and emphatic No.
Paul had seen how the state working by law had murdered Jesus how the government crucified God’s son, and exalted raw power over humble love. He knew that the government was made up mostly of self-serving liars, cruel hypocrites and cold psychopaths. Therefore the true debt we owe is not tax money to the state but love to one another in imitation of Jesus. In his death Jesus reveals that the truth of human relations is not law but love. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:10).” The state works by law, Christ works by love. The state takes, and may or may not give in return, Jesus gives, and gives and gives. Therefore, Paul sums up, “…put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (13:14).”
We hear and understand what Paul is saying, and we know how impossible it is to realize, how much of a miracle the mutual love of a community that needs no law is, and it is at this point our Gospel passage becomes relevant. Matthew 18:15-20 is about church governance and polity, and it reflects more the needs of a developing community more than the teaching of a wandering holy man and his twelve disciples. To interpret this passage aright we must put it in its historical context, which is the early church trying to get organized, trying to set up a procedure for dealing with the divisiveness of diversity. Who decides who is right in disputed matters? That is why dealing with the church structure above us here is so hard for me because it is all about process and very little about content.
The Matthew lesson has in place a really good process for conflict resolution up to the point where it seems to assert that if two or three agree on something together in Christ’s name that their decision is Christ’s decision. This conclusion is dangerously fatal.
According to the view of
I am not in any way smart enough to try to describe a fix for the world’s problems. I do recognize that the world is full of sin and that we must give respect to that sad fact.
But we don’t have to be exclusively bound by that sad fact. Rather I believe that a move toward the politics of love is possible within our families and this congregation. This is not an attempt at building a heaven on earth because only Jesus can do that when he comes again. Notice I said move toward or try or hope it’s not going to reach its fulfillment but I think because Jesus died for us that we can reflect or foreshadow it at least just a little bit.
I think it begins with avoiding self-idolization and thinking that what we think is also what God thinks and approves of. Paul speaks of humility and I define this as always being willing to believe that we in fact might be wrong. I think humility also involves backing away and even allowing others to take advantage of us in a limited way. Being humble is a valiant but at the same time tentative reflection of a Jesus that never resisted and gave himself to all in an unlimited way.
I do believe that the church is the body of Christ but I also think that this is often hard to see. I don’t blame anyone for this and I emphatically include myself as part of the problem and I am even rather certain that I in fact share in any blame. I do not know why families and congregations are so defective and end up having their people beat each other up with rules and regulations and moral blackmail and are so often lacking in love.
It is not possible to have a politics of love in the world but I think that in our families and here among ourselves that we must keep trying. I would rather fail at love rather than succeed with law and order. I think it is more of a reflection of the Jesus that the spirit has allowed me to see. And Jesus said that we must love one another so it’s not optional. We must try and we can’t give up and we might not succeed but we must keep trying.
So let me finish up by saying that I am really uncomfortable that just because I think something that it is so and I am even less comfortable with the idea that because I think something so does God. I would like to end by quoting from another place in Matthew in Chapter 23 where it says “Call no man on earth your father, for you have one father who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have but one master the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” I think we need to concentrate more on that and if we do there will be way less need for the kind of conflict resolution described in today’s lesson.
1. Do you think it possible to live in a world of love without law?
2. Why do we have such a strong tendency to idolize ourselves and to think God thinks what we think too?
3. Do you agree with me that the example of Jesus life shows that it is better to fail at living by love rather than to succeed at living by rules and regulations?