Binding & Loosing
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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 18):
To listen to earlier homilies click here.
Draft text of the homily—please do not cite without permission
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
That sounds like an awful lot of responsibility to me.
Quite frightening, really.
Why would God allow someone as fallible, as fragile,
someone who fails regularly, who get things wrong on a daily basis…
Why would God trust someone like me to bind things on both earth and heaven?
To loose things on earth and in heaven?
Why would I be given that kind of responsibility?
Why would you be given that?
This section in Matthew is often understood to be about life in community.
It’s the early church—Matthew’s community of mostly Jewish followers of Christ—
are trying to work out how to live with one another…
how to live with the tension of welcoming both Jews and Gentiles…
Trying to figure out how to peacefully co-exist with different members of different communities adhering to different practices,
espousing different beliefs…
perhaps even being pretty strident about their very different ideas of what is allowable and what’s sinful
Thankfully this is all ancient history for us.
We know nothing about any of this…
we know nothing about living with the tension of real difference…
For us all the friction around difference and identity, of race, and gender and class have long since disappeared and we live in a blissful state—sort of like the world of Star Trek the Next Generation—where everyone is healthy and well-adjusted…
This is one of those Gospel passages that Christian communities keep returning to because it still addresses our lives today.
Jesus is telling us again…
showing us again…
what this resurrected life in community looks like.
And there are times when we need to comfort one another
and there are times when we need to confront one another…
We all make mistakes.
We all fail.
And we hurt each other.
Say things and do things—even with the very best of intentions—that cause harm to others.
There are times when we need to take someone aside and point out how their behavior is harming the community…
have a frank conversation about the things done and the things left undone.
The process Jesus recommends here is sound, and it really is the way we try to do things in the church…
Encourage the one offended to speak to the offender in private, if that doesn’t work, or if you’re too uncomfortable take someone with you, if that fails, there are official procedures in place.
And if the passage stopped there, we’d still have a good procedure for addressing the inevitable friction that comes up in every community.
But it doesn’t end with the procedural.
Jesus then says, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
You have the ability, the authority, the power to work out your differences, now remember that with that comes this awesome responsibility.
Whatever you decide to do, or not do, has deep, profound, and far reaching implications.
Therefore, we’d better be pretty clear about our intentions…
We’d better strive to act with intentionality grounded in compassion and not simply react to everything.
Reactivity sets loose some very bad things…
We’ve all done it, made a situation worse by reacting to our own rising anxiety, our anger, our fear, our hurt…
We can unleash all kinds of horrible things on the world by reactive words and knee-jerk reactions
And when we do that others can, and should, take us aside and point out the fault.
For me, what was really interesting meditating on the scripture this week, was the shift between the process (here’s how to deal with friction) and the personal (what you bind and what you loose).
It seemed as if Jesus was saying, here’s a way of living with real difference, but don’t forget…
You can’t really change anyone else—you can point out, and refuse to tolerate undesirable behavior, but the only person you can really change is yourself.
We need to learn to have control over just those things we can actually control—our own reactions—what we bind and what we loose on the world.
There’s a well-known story that may come from the Cherokee tradition.
The source is less important because the story is reveals something true
An elder training a youth just on the brink of adulthood says:
“There are two wolves inside of you, inside of me, inside of every person.
“One is evil—anger, envy, greed, self-pity, false-witness, pride, superiority, slander…
“The other is good—joy, peace, humility, kindness, truth, compassion, faith, hope, love…
“These two wolves battle savagely in each person.
“Which wolf will win?” the youth asks.
And the elder replies, “the one you feed.”
Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
If you bind your love, and refuse to risk, refuse to be vulnerable, refuse to share it,
Your love will be bound.
If you loose your embarrassment, your grief, your hurts (all of which are often expressed as anger), if you release anger, fear, hatred, on the world, it will be loosed.
We know what kind of world this creates…we’re living in it.
It’s another of the great paradoxes of faith…
We are each responsible for our emotional wake—for the trail of emotional damage we can too often, and unintentionally leave behind…
At the same time, even while we are swimming in the sea of everyone else’s emotional actions and reactions, it is also true that no one can make us feel anything, think anything, or do anything.
No human is that powerful.
Emotions just happen.
They emerge out of our reptilian brain and just are.
How we respond to them is up to us.
And that requires clarity and courage—sometimes more courage than we think we have—to choose to behave differently—to decide which wolf to feed—in the midst of our emotions.
We always have a choice.
We can choose as Gandhi said to, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”
And Jesus shows us how to do this.
He feels anxiety and anger and sadness and joy—every human emotion,
being fully divine doesn’t make him less human, paradoxically it makes him MORE human
So he feels every emotion but he binds his destructive responses to them and looses his prophetic response, his vulnerability, his compassion, his love.
It’s hard to do.
I know it’s hard to do.
I’m a parent, I’m reminded every day, sometimes several times a day, how hard it is to be a calm, together, to choose to act rather than simply react.
Very often the greatest gift we can give one another is to take care of ourselves and continue growing, maturing (and age has nothing to do with maturity).
Maturity has to do with being responsible for our own health: emotional, physical, financial, spiritual, and knowing when and how to rely on our communities of faith and friends to support us and tell us the larger truth we can’t always see about ourselves.
Paul says that the process of maturing is like waking from sleep.
Realizing that love for our neighbors and love for ourselves are inextricably intertwined.
And that peace in the world is impossible without first making peace in our own hearts.