Binding and Loosing Sin
Ezekiel 33:7-11; Psalm 119:33-40; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
Today’s gospel reading from Matthew is the model for how to deal with conflict within the the church. It is the paradigm used within all congregational constitutions under the heading “Church Discipline” and for good reason. Jesus’ teaching to his disciples is in response to ongoing tensions between the twelve. James and John are constantly trying to leverage power and favor with Jesus and Jesus sometimes doesn’t help matters when he takes Peter, James, and John off to one side for personal instruction and spiritual experiences. There are numerous times in the gospels where the disciples argue among themselves about James’ and John’s presumptuous behavior, but the others don’t speak directly to them, or to Jesus for that matter. It is only after Jesus asks the disciples what they are arguing about that all the pent up resentments come to the fore; which is why Jesus takes the twelve aside and provides this teaching on how to deal with conflict within community.
Jesus’ goal with this teaching is to nip conflict between members in the bud. The steps Jesus lays out are not only for the twelve, but for the church as a whole. The steps are as follows:
First the offended person is to go to the offender and deal with the matter quietly. If that doesn’t work; then the offended is to bring two or three members of the community along and have it out. If the second intervention doesn’t work; then the problem is to be brought to the whole community, and if that doesn’t solve the problem then the offender is to be asked to leave the community and that one is to be like a Gentile or tax collector.
On the surface this looks pretty cut and dry. There is a simple progression of steps, and if at the end of the steps there is no solution then the offender is asked to leave. However, there is a catch at the end, which prevents the community, and the offended, from just washing their hands of the situation and walking away. The first catch is how did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? Jesus was pretty welcoming and forgiving to Gentiles and tax collectors. The ultimate catch that there is more going on here than simple discipline is the verse “What you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” In other words, what are the remaining people going to do with the resentment that lingers after the conflict because there will be a resentment hangover trust me.
Stop and think about the conflicts in your life that were later resolved by one party or the other storming off angry. We have all been in that situation and if we are honest with ourselves we still have strong feelings about those past problems. So, the conflict comes to an end on the surface, but the deeper damage of resentment is never really dealt with and lingers on and we are never really whole again because we have bound that sin to ourselves.
The real issue with conflict isn’t the issue around the conflict, but rather all the resentment that goes with it. Resentment is a powerful sin because it becomes a part of our personality. So, what is resentment? According to Webster’s Dictionary, “Resentment is a feeling of indignant displeasure or persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult, or injury.” Resentment is a powerful and destructive feeling that can and does begin to take on a life of its own. Resentment in the extreme is almost demonic because once it takes hold of a person it begins to twist and warp the person’s being and character. I truly believe that Jesus isn’t just talking about conflict in today’s lesson, but he is digging deeper into the issue of resentment and trying to help the disciples recognize the dangers of resentment for all levels of human interaction.
Just think of the resentment a person would have if they went through all the steps Jesus lays out today and ultimately failed to get the person to admit their wrong and apologize, but rather became willing to walk away from the church? How completely deflating and unrewarding that must feel like. Just think how easy it would be to build up a resentment, “a persistent ill will at something regarded as a wrong, insult or injury” and allow it to become all consuming. Many of us deal with resentments every day and they do become overwhelming to the point that it affects our relationships and health. How do we deal with this all consuming problem?
First, I think we take Paul’s advice in Romans and chose to love, which sounds kind of trite and simplistic. However, there is a way to achieve Paul’s goal and we need to go back to Jesus’ words concerning binding and loosing sins. Binding and loosing sins must have been important to Jesus because he says it at least two times in Matthew’s gospel. We had it a couple weeks ago when he told Peter that on his faith God would build God’s church. We also have it here at the end of a teaching on how to deal with conflict. So what is Jesus talking about and how do we bind and loose sins?
We bind sins when we fail to forgive, but let me be clear the sins are not bound to the person we can’t forgive, but rather they are bound to ourselves. The sins are bound to us in the form of resentments. We loose sins when we forgive, but who do we forgive and how do we forgive? How do we forgive one who has wronged us? There is a way, but it takes brutal honesty on our part. We have to take a close look at our part in the conflict and own it without reservation. The action of owning our own part in conflicts and our resentments is the most liberating, freeing, and awesome and powerful experience. However, it is the most unnatural part of the process almost as unnatural as going and speaking face to face with someone who has wronged you. The difference here is that you look and see how you have not only wronged the other party in the conflict, but how you wronged yourself in the process and then you ask for forgiveness from the other party and from God. I know it sounds crazy and it seems backwards, but it is the only antidote to resentment that I know of that works.
If you are dealing with unresolved conflicts and resentment just try this because really it can’t hurt, and it will help. Write down the resentment and feel free to vent. Don’t hold back, write it all out and honestly write how you feel. After you do that then turn the page and write how this resentment has affected your relationships with God, your family, work, you name it put it all out there. Finally, write your part in the resentment. Now, maybe initially you didn’t have a part and you were simply wronged; however, over time you allowed your resentment to grow and it began to eat you away from the inside and you need to forgive yourself for allowing it to happen. Maybe you simply need to just let it go. Maybe you do have a part in the original conflict and you need to apologize. What you discover in the end that the real sin was the resentment and what you did with it. Once you loose the resentment you will feel as if a weight has been lifted off of your shoulders and you’ll experience a freedom that seemed beyond reach.
Conflicts happen in life and have happened clear throughout history. The whole Old Testament is just one giant conflict after another. The first family, Adam and Eve, experienced the deadly result of conflict and resentment when Cain killed his brother Abel. Every proceeding biblical family is rife with conflict and resentment, which leads to death and destruction. The New Testament shows how God, through Jesus, takes the anger and resentment of God’s people and kills it on the cross in order to resurrect another way of being. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry he says, “Repent and believe in the good news for the Kingdom of God is near.” Jesus points to another way of living, which is embodied in forgiveness. Through Christ the sin of resentment can be destroyed forever; however one does have to repent and believe that the good news of the kingdom of God is near. Jesus says in today’s gospel lesson that where two or three are gathered in His name He will be among them. Jesus knew that where two or three are gather that the possibility for conflict is there too; however, with Jesus present there is even a greater possibility to spread peace. We need to get out of our own way, loose the sin of resentment that binds us and live free.
The world needs people of faith today and we have all the gifts to be beautiful messengers of God’s love. Let us forgive each other, forgive ourselves, and be the embodiment of love that God calls us to be in a world full of anger and resentment. Look around there are so many angry people in the world today carrying around the sin of resentment. Let us deal with our own resentments so that we can be the messengers of what being loosed from our sins really looks like so that we can minister to others bound by their own sins. It is within our reach we just have to be honest with ourselves and with God, which is scary, but so liberating.
If you want to live life without resentment there is a way, and it is so simple. Own your resentments and own your part in your resentments. Ask forgiveness from the ones you have harmed, forgive yourself, and receive God’s forgiveness. If you do these steps as a bookend to the steps Jesus lays out for conflict in community you will truly know the peace of God which surpasses all understanding. It is simple, but it is not easy; however, it is more than worth it.