Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The importance of being equals

One of the things I love about Matthew 18 is its realisim about human motivation and assurance of God's grace.

When the chapter opens, the disciples have clearly been hurumphing about Jesus appearing to make Peter top dog in the team (16:18-20), something that could have been reinforced in what just happened (17:24-27) where Jesus miraculously provided for his and Peter's temple tax (what about us? you can almost hear the rest saying!!)

Their question about status is met with a discourse about equality of relationship among the disciple group of which a child - a completely status-free entity (interestingly refered to as 'it' in the text) - is the prime, indeed only example.

And it all leads up to a wondrous word of grace, the democratisation of authority in the community of believers, the sharing of Peter's gift in 18:18-20 where each and every disicple is given the same right to tie up and untie as Peter was given in 16:18-20.

As Dick France in his consistently excellent and in sightful commentary points out, the key to grasping these words is to recognise that Jesus speaks in future perfects. That is to say what we bind or loose will already have been bound or loosed in heaven. In other words our authority is that God graciously condescends to disclose his will to us as we gather together to ask him (that is the thrust of the prayer pericope in v19).

And all this has to do not with people - the binding or loosing is not about the including or excluding of people since the object of the binding or loosing is neuter - but with things or issues. Indeed what Jesus probably has in mind here are the actions of those wandering or sinning that he's already referred to. God graciously gives insight into what's right and wrong so that we can speak that truth into each other's lives and thus keep one another sharp and on the right track.

And he does this through being with us in our tiny insignificiant little groups in all his glorious resurrection authority (28:20; see 1:23).

Isn't this fab?!

And it raises the question why we bother about our status and where we fit in the church pecking order and whether we're doing better than the bloke who sits next to us on a Sunday morning.

The beatitudes have already reminded us that we bring nothing to the table but God gives us all we need to live. And here Jesus calls us to earth those values in the way we look out for one another. Truly, as Wesley so memorably put it, we are called to 'watch over one another with love'. What greater status could we ever want than that?

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