Week of Proper 18: Monday, Year 2   4 comments

Above:  Jesus Healing the Man with the Withered Hand

Regarding Scandals and Church Discipline

SEPTEMBER 10, 2018

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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1 Corinthians 5:1-8 (The Jerusalem Bible):

I have been told as an undoubted fact that one of you is living with his father’s wife.  This is a case of sexual immorality among you that must be unparalleled even among pagans.  How can you be so proud of yourselves?  You should be in mourning.  A man who does a thing like that ought to have been expelled from the community.  Though I am far away in body, I am with you in spirit, and have already condemned the man who did this thing as if I were actually present.  When you are assembled together in the name of the Lord Jesus, and I am spiritually present with you, then with the power of our Lord Jesus he is to be handed over to Satan so that his sensual body may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord.

The pride that you take in yourselves is hardly to your credit.  You must know how even a small amount of yeast is enough to leaven all the dough, so get rid of all the old east, and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread, unleavened as you are meant to be.  Christ, our passover, has been sacrificed; let us celebrate the feast, then, by getting rid of all the old yeast of evil and wickedness, having only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

Psalm 5 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Give ear to my words, O LORD;

consider my meditation.

2  Hearken to my cry for help, my King and my God,

for I will make my prayer to you.

3  In the morning, LORD, you hear my voice;

early in the morning I make my appeal and watch for you.

4  For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness,

and evil cannot dwell with you.

5  Braggarts cannot stand in your sight;

you hate all those who work wickedness.

6  You destroy those who speak lies;

the bloodthirsty and deceitful, O LORD, you abhor.

7  But as for me, through the greatness of your mercy I will go into your house;

I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.

8  Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness,

because of those who lie in wait for me;

make your way straight before me.

9  For there is no truth in their mouth;

there is destruction in their heart;

10  Their throat is an open grave;

they flatter with their tongue.

11  Declare them guilty, O God;

let them fall, because of their schemes,

12  Because of their many transgressions cast them out,

for they have rebelled against you.

13  But all who take refuge in you will be glad;

they will sing out their joy for ever.

14  You will shelter them,

so that those who love your Name may exult in you.

15  For you, O LORD, will bless the righteous;

you will defend them with your favor as with a shield.

Luke 6:6-11 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Now on another sabbath he [Jesus] went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was there whose hand was withered.  The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure a man on the sabbath, hoping to find something to use against him.  But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand,

Stand up!  Come out into the middle.

And he came out and stood there.  Then Jesus said to them,

I put it to you; it is against the law on the sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it?

Then he looked round at them all and said to the man,

Stretch out your hand.

He did so, and his hand was better.  But they were furious, and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus.

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The Collect:

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Mark 3:1-6 (Parallel to Luke 6:6-11):

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/24/week-of-2-epiphany-wednesday-year-1/

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/proper-4-year-b/

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Before I proceed to my text proper, I acknowledge my dependence upon the excellent commentary in The Anchor Bible volume (especially pages 184-188) on 1 Corinthians, by William F. Orr and James Arthur Walther.

The text in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 leaves certain questions unanswered.  Was the man cohabitating with or married to his stepmother?  Was she divorced from his father?  Was the man’s father alive or dead?  May we not rush to assumptions, which are, in any event, small fries relative to what we do know:  The unmarried man was engaged in an immoral relationship with a woman (not his mother) who was also his stepmother.  Roman law forbade this practice, although it was common among many Gentiles.  Paul rejected the Corinthian church’s lax attitude and favored handing the man over to authorities, so that the offender might become aware of his error and repent of it one day.

We have freedom in Christ, but this fact does not exempt us from certain rules.  So incest, in the example from 1 Corinthians 5:1-8, is always forbidden.  And there is need for church discipline sometimes.

There can be excessive church discipline, of course.  Reading histories of old (often Protestant) congregations (in my experience, in the U.S. South) can provide many examples of this generalization.  Once, while pouring over a history of a rural Methodist congregation (founded in the 1840s) in Southwest Georgia, I came across an account of a case of church discipline in the late 1800s.  A young woman had danced in public one Saturday night.  That was all she had done.  This was a case of unjustified church discipline.  Yet we read of a case of an unjustified lack of church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5:1-8.

The reading mentions pride, a topic repeated from earlier in the epistle.  Did some in the Corinthian congregation think that their toleration for the man’s sexual relationship with his stepmother placed them on a higher spiritual plane?  They seem to have done so.  We must always guard against pride, regardless of that of which we are or might be proud.  May we also recall that, for Paul, the only acceptable boast was one in God in Christ, not in ourselves.

Social contexts change over time, and this day we read 1 Corinthians 5:1-8 in various places quite different from middle-First Century C.E. Corinth.  So, as we seek to understand and apply this text to our contemporary contexts, may we always remember two essential details:

  1. Paul’s emphasis was communal, not individualistic.  The unnamed man’s behavior affected the Corinthian church negatively.
  2. Paul advised discipline for the sake of both the community and the unnamed man.  The man might yet repent; he should have that opportunity.  And the local congregation would no longer have a scandal darkening its reputation.

Not all scandals are bad, of course.  Jesus healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath.  He created a scandal by committing a good deed.  So, if we offend and scandalize others, may we do so via our good deeds.  May the reality of the scandal speak well of us and poorly of our critics.  If, for example, we create a scandal by reaching out to the poor, the despised, and the marginalized as opportunities present themselves, we follow in the esteemed example of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  And, if we claim the label “Christian,” such activities ought to be part of our discipleship.

May good deeds proliferate and bad deeds become less common–all for the common good and the glory of God.  And, if our good deeds scandalize others, we will be in good company.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/16/of-scandals-and-church-discipline/

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