Praying Towards Sunday

With the Rev. Canon Denis O’Pray in the pulpit this Sunday, it is my privilege to share the following with you.  – Gary+

“God and the Jerks”

This Sunday’s Gospel is about the hard work of living in relationships with people who are a pain in the neck … or perhaps the pain is located somewhere lower down.  Scholars note that Matthew puts words is Jesus “voice,” that are anachronistic, since the “church” he refers to did not exist while Jesus was on earth.  There is clear irony in the conclusion that Matthew comes to about what to do when a church member acts like a jerk.

If the person hurts you, tell him about it and "work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won't listen, tell the church. If he won't listen to the church,” then what?  Matthew implies that it is probably time to give up and consider the person a lost cause, “a tax collector.”  There is the irony, for remember that Matthew’s own previous profession was just that, tax collector for the occupying Romans.  This is clearly Matthew putting words in Jesus’ mouth that were not at all backed up by the actions of this same Jesus.  Jesus did NOT give up on Matthew, the tax collector! 

So, I believe there is more than irony here.  There is a sub-text that says, “Love is really hard work!” Matthew uses church relationships to identify a pattern of working in love to transform a possible enemy into a likely friend.  And Jesus himself would not give up on the job—at any point.

We are challenged to work hard at the task before us of loving the jerks!  It is the call to “labor in love” and to strive to endure certain people.  Doing so means Jesus will be in our midst, transforming our irritations and animosities into expressions of deep compassion and service.

In his book "Wishful Thinking," Frederick Buechner speaks of love as the most powerful and the most powerless of all powers.  "It is the most powerful because it alone can conquer that final and most impregnable stronghold which is the human heart. It is the most powerless because it can do nothing except by consent."

Love is indeed hard work.  But we are called by God to do that work. Any time we have to decide how to respond to another person, we are being called to do the work of love.

In the 150 years of this church’s story, you can be sure that the parish has counted within the membership a certain share of difficult people.

Don’t be surprised if you encounter one, but while there may be challenging folks among us, they never become tax collectors to us, not if we follow the example of the Man who called Matthew, the tax-collector, to his side as one of the Twelve.

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