Meditation: Bind us together, Lord; bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord; Bind us together, Lord; Bind us together with love.
In the name of the One who holds all things together. Amen.
The devil is in the details. That’s true in contracts; it’s also true in Biblical translation. The phrase placed in Jesus’ mouth in most translations is: “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
Seems pretty straightforward. If we forgive someone, we can give them a ‘get out of jail’ pass. But if we don’t, we can make them writhe like a worm on a hook. Hm. Writhing worms. You know, that just doesn’t sound like Jesus. Jesus, who said, “Forgive your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus, who said, “Love your neighbor the same way you love yourself.” Those sound like Jesus. But that one about making someone writhe on a hook- that sounds so petty, so vengeful, so lacking in grace. So unlike Jesus.
And so I started snooping around in my commentaries, and found something by a woman who knows a lot more about grammar than I do. Sandra Schneiders is a renowned Catholic New Testament scholar who has taught at the Jesuit School of Theology. She has been given the highest honor bestowed by the Catholic Theological Society of America. She’s got the credentials.
And what Sandra Schneiders teaches is that those “sins” apply only to the first clause, which is forgiven. The second clause doesn’t have sins in it, and doesn’t refer to the first clause.
I wanted to check this out, so I went to my Greek New Testament, and sure enough, the word hamartia– sins- was in that first phrase: If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.” There it is: sins.
But the second phrase doesn’t have that word hamartia in it.
The translators imply that hamartia- sins- is in the second phrase, but really it’s not.
No, the second clause refers to the people, not to their sins, and it should be translated, “If you hold fast to a person, they are held fast.” Held fast… embraced… kept close. So instead of retaining the sins of a person and making them writhe on a hook, we hold fast to them, we embrace them, we keep them close to us- and we offer them grace.
I like that. I’m no grammarian, but I like that. It sounds more like the Jesus I love. It sounds like, “Forgive your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” Or like Jesus’s words on the cross, “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
But we oftimes don’t do that, do we? Part of us likes to see people who have hurt us… squirm. But that’s not Jesus’ way. Jesus’ way is to forgive, and embrace, and hold fast.
In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, there in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,
“If you are angry a brother or sister, you will be judged; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be judged. So when you are offering your gift at God’s altar, and there remember that your sister or brother has something against you, leave your gift there at the altar. Go, and first be reconciled to your sister or brother; then you can come back and offer your gift to God.” (Matthew 5:22-24)
Go first and be reconciled. We can’t just let each other squirm like worms on a hook. It’s not Christian. The responsibility is not only on we who are angry to come forward and be reconciled; responsibility is also on we whom people are angry with, to reach out and try to come to terms. God calls both sides to take responsibility for the unity of the body of Christ.
If we forgive those who sin against us, then they are forgiven. If we hold fast to them, then they are held fast. They are embraced. The relationship has a chance of being made whole again. The body of Christ is not divided, but held together out of a WILL to love.
Most folks are really uncomfortable with that concept, because most of us hate conflict, and will do most anything to avoid it. We will talk behind backs, so we don’t have to face the one who irks us. We will avoid each other’s eyes; we will leave quietly, and not give a reason. Anything to keep from having to face uncomfortable feelings.
But later a few verses later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven… For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do that? And if you greet only your sisters and brothers, what more are you doing than unbelievers? Unbelievers do the same thing. So be whole and reconciled, even as your heavenly Father is whole and reconciled.” (Matthew 5:43-48)
The way of Christ is not easy. It calls us against every impulse of self-preservation and comfort that we have.
Love one another, especially the ones you have something against. Reconcile with one another, especially those with whom we disagree. Hold fast to those that we’re just not happy with, realizing that we are, in fact, called by Christ to work out our differences with patience, courage, and kindness.
For there are no enemies in the body of Christ; just people we need to hear, and love, and come to terms with in the midst of our disagreements.
In the name of the One who holds all of us together; even Jesus the Christ. Amen.
SCRIPTURE FOR APRIL 28, 2019 JOHN 20:19-23
When it was the evening of the day of Jesus’s resurrection, the first day of the week, the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews. Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After He said this, Jesus showed them His hands and His side, (where the nails and spear had gone through.) Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent Me, so I send you.” When He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sings of any, they are forgiven. If you hold fast any person, they are held fast.”
Friends, listen to what the Spirit would say to us today.