homily for Trinity 13, Matthew 18: 15-20
Toleration, with limits
Schools are back this week, and our intercessions today are full of prayers for children, parents, teachers, and all who work in education.
Any parent will know that feeling of utter vulnerability you get as you surrender your child to those school gates.
What you hope for, what you need,
is for that school to be a safe place for your child.
Safe-spaces. Right now you hear people sneer at that word. But we all need a space that’s free – not from the normal arguments, rows, and fallings out that life brings, no! – but free from real hurt, bullying and humiliation.
A few years back, some of you here were part of our Pathwayz Kids’ club. Pathwayz’ nights were wild and unpredictable: full of mess, laughter, some tears and lots of fun. Sometimes, some of the kids could be too rough with each other, and we had to take steps to deal with that. If things didn’t improve, we then had to call the parents and ask them to collect a child. It wasn’t what we wanted to do –we hated doing it – but we also needed to protect both the child involved and all the other children as well.
Once or twice, we even had to say to some parents, that the behaviour of their child was so consistently disruptive, that they needed some weeks away from us
We all had, hand on heart, great pity for the children whose parents we needed to say that to. It made us feel rubbish. And we prayed for those children, and never stopped caring for them, but we also knew that
love needs to exclude.
Nowadays, we all want inclusive schools and inclusive Churches and inclusive communities. Yes, to all of that: no one excluded for just being who they are, or for whom they love or for what their body needs. Love’s default position is always to include. Always. But here, in today’s gospel, is Jesus saying what He’s not supposed to say: sometimes, love needs to exclude.
‘If he still refuses to listen, then treat him as one who’s on the outside’ Jesus
Jesus says, if someone’s behaviour is hurtful or destructive, try and work it out, of course. If that doesn’t work, reach out to others and try with their help. But if it still doesn’t work, there may come a time when you need to say to someone: this is not ok, and right now, we’re making some distance that you don’t get to cross.
It took me ages to work out this bleeding obvious stuff, but even longer to realise that Jesus Himself was saying it. The Jesus who says, love your enemies, you never get to hate, you never get to plan revenge with a side order of tell-everyone gossip, also says, you don’t get to put up with abuse, or destructive behaviour from other people.
We all like to think we can fix things, and make it all ok, straight away. But very often, we can’t. There’s a Buddhist teaching which says that some broken things in life can’t be solved by doing anything. And that can be the hardest thing, doing nothing, because the ego wants to do something. But sometimes it’s just out of our hands, and we need to make boundaries and say ‘no’ and let time and God and the angels do their thing.
Sometimes, love needs to exclude
It might be that this is where some of you are right now. Life often gives us something very sharp and broken to hold. Well, if so, reach out. Don’t be proud. We’re all in this mess called life together. One of the reasons that religious people like to come together, rather than try to follow God on their own, is that we so, so need each other. That’s what this messy, fragile, ridiculous, glorious, holy thing called the Church is all about. We need each other, because only together can we make the kind of safe, sacred and healing spaces that every soul needs.