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Stebbing, Great Dunmow, Essex, United Kingdom
The occasional blog of an Anglican priest in rural Essex

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Go on now go, walk out the door ... (?)

Aha, there it is, staring me in the face from Sunday's gospel reading, Matthew 18, 15-20.

We looked at it again at home group this afternoon, and had some considerable discussion - this is after all a passage with at least three major things in it that cause a stir

- if your brother sins against you, go show him his fault - when's the last time you did that?

Or again, if two on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done by my Father in heaven (my friend H**** had some choice words on that having prayed very hard for her late husband in his illness.)

And again, if he refuses to listen, tell it to the church ... that'd liven up 1662 communion!

But the thing we got stuck into (and perhaps it's fair to say, stuck on) was the meaning of "treat him as you would a tax collector or a pagan" (verse 17 TNIV)

I preached on this passage Sunday using some notes from Rootsonthe web by David Goodbourn, in which he makes the comment,

"There is an irony in letting the outcast be to you 'as a Gentile and a tax collector', given that there were now many Gentile Christians, and elsewhere in the Gospel tax collectors are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven."

Some in our homegroup felt that this implies that the sinner is in fact not excluded (as perhaps Jewish culture of the time would expect - hence the irony) but nurtured and supported and included, as the tax collectors and gentiles (NRSV so much better here) from the Matthean church were. This approach gains some strength from the fact that the rest of chapter 18 is all about inclusion, so on verse on exclusion seems rather out of place. The old "What would Jesus do?" question also lent weight to this idea.

On the other hand, some others in this light hearted and inquisitive discussion felt that the more immediately obvious meaning that, as tax collectors and Gentiles were outsiders to the Jewish community, so the unrepentant sinner should be shunned by the church. I guess this is where you got the practice of 'the ban' or shunning, in certain non-conformist churches and communities.

So it's about either keeping them in and looking after them, or kicking them out and thereby remaining "pure".

On the way home (or rather on the way to teach the Primary School Eoghan Heaslip's "Holy is the Lord") it suddenly struck me that these two potential interpretations would split pretty accurately the two sides of the Communion/ECUSA/sexuality/gafcon/fulcrum maggoty mess (to steal a phrase from Jody Stowell)

You either want to be shot of the revisionists/gay inclusivists (Ephraim Radner's words, not mine), because they "will not listen to the church", so you'd take the second interpretation, or you want to keep the door open, while being clear on what you feel is the ideal, therefore going for option 1.

Blimey, 3 nil in Zagreb and still 15 minutes to go!