Jesus loved Gentiles and tax collectors. It’s a good thing, too, or I wouldn’t be here writing this. So I have always been perplexed by the closing words of this scripture:
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17
Does that mean to just put them out of your mind? Or cut all ties with them? Or to treat them as trash and throw them away? Gentiles and tax collectors were deeply reviled by the people Jesus was speaking to. For the longest time, I struggled with this because I thought this must be what Jesus meant. Just forget them as if they are no part of you.
But here’s the thing: Jesus loved Gentiles and tax collectors. He called a tax collector to be one of his disciples. He ministered to Gentiles. My goodness, prophesy said he came to be a light to the Gentiles. In fact, the entirety of the book of Acts is about how his movement became a world-wide faith for Gentiles and Jews alike.
So here’s what I am starting to think. Maybe Jesus was saying to keep loving them, but to hold them in a different place. It means to realize we are “out of fellowship” with them. They are children of God, so we can never treat them like trash, or wash our hands of them, or shut down so that all we offer is disregard and unkindness.
Richard Rohr said it this way. “When you finally come to maturity, you can look back at your life and forgive every bit of it. You can let go of everyone who hurt you, even your first wife or husband. You don’t even need to hate the church that hurt you. Wisdom is where you see it all and you eliminate none of it and include all of it as important training. Finally, ‘everything belongs.’ You are able to say, from some larger place that even surprises you, ‘It is what it is’ and even the ‘bad’ was good.”
Maybe the scripture means to just accept them for who they are, and to leave the door open but give it a rest. To forgive is not to forget, and it's certainly not to treat them like trash. It is to hold them as part of your life, your memories, and your learning experiences. It is to claim down deep that you tried your best, but now you must simply accept your lot with them. And just love them anyway.
But that love holds them in a different place of the heart. You are no longer seeking and trying and reconciling. You are simply accepting. You give up the chase, but you don’t let it become chastisement. You just let it be.
Sometimes I’m slow, but I think I’m finally getting it.