Two weeks ago, with our friend Peter, Jesus said he was the rock upon which the church would stand. Whatever Peter would bind on earth would be bound in heaven and whatever Peter would loose on earth would be loosed on heaven.
This week, Jesus returns to that theme of binding and loosing, and speaking to his disciples says that whatever the church binds on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever it looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. But what does this even mean? Binding? Loosing? Whenever I hear these terms, I have a vague idea that those things which are “bad” are bound, and the things that are “good” are loosed. But is thwt what this actually means, and if it is, how is it that we determine what gets bound and loosed? That seems like a big responsibility?
Binding and loosing are actually rabbinic terms, so it makes sense that Jesus, a rabbi, would use them. Binding and loosing was and is the authority to declare something as forbidden or as allowed. Bound of loosed. “Binding and loosing on earth as in heaven means interpreting former expressions of God’s will to show what is fitting now in the church’s experience.”
Jesus, during his sermon on the mount gave many examples of binding and loosing, saying “You have heard it was said…but I say to you.” This task of interpretation was something the early church and followers of Christ were called to. But for the earliest followers of Jesus, it seemed as if there was not one guiding principle, but many that were informing what might be bound and what might be loosed. There were many different places that they found guidance, and some were not great for the body of Christ. This was when Paul presents his rule to which one could hold any other principle against–The law of love. With the words of Jesus, Paul instructs those in Rome. Recognizing that they were living under the imperial Roman government, he knows that there was a certain way things are done. But he reminds them that Jesus came and brought a new message. Jesus’ message was different from Rome’s. It was a message of neighbor love, not of power and domination. It was a message that was meant to temper absolute loyalty to a government that said you should serve them before your neighbor.
In our lives, it is easy to forget Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourself. There are countless things that daily compete for our attention and loyalty – Our jobs, certain brands, political parties – Yet, when those things grab hold of us, we forget our neighbor, and are not able to clearly bind and loose as we have been instructed to. In a world that is increasingly individualistic, our personal interests inform how we engage with the world. We begin to bind and loose based upon what serves us, rather than what serves our neighbor. We take it upon ourselves to be the arbiters of interpreting and engaging with scripture, rather than working within a community we are called to be a part of a community called to love.
Despite our best intentions, despite being well informed, or well read, our own efforts will ultimately lead us to fail in binding and loosing because all that we do is constantly turning inward. The apostle Paul wrote about this earlier in Romans 7, saying “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh.////I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” Like the apostle Paul, even though we will what is right, on our own we cannot achieve it.
But the good news to the disciples of Jesus was that where two or three of them were gathered, there too was Jesus. When they were working in community as the church, Jesus was there among them, guiding and informing all that they did. And this news that Jesus would be with them, this was a blessing. A blessing that in the work of the early church, would allow them to live into the law of love.
Through the law of love, the church was called to constantly seek reconciliation with those they were in disagreement with. This law of love is what guides the “Church reconciliation manual” Jesus gave to his followers. After failing to reconcile individually, Jesus says that it is within the community that we are to seek reconciliation. If that doesn’t achieve reconciliation, Jesus says to let them be as a gentile and tax collector.
When reading this passage before, I took my own understanding that there were the “others,” the people that we are not called to have anything to do with. To essentially shun them. But in reading this week, through engaging in the wider wisdom of the church, I was reminded that gentiles and tax collectors are the very people that Jesus never turned his ministry away from. That they were the precise people Jesus welcomed to share in his gospel. The early church, in following Jesus’ example was never to close its welcome to any who desired to be part of its beloved community that is based on neighbor love. In light of neighbor love, the church began to engage in the practice of binding and loosing, of working together to understand God’s will for different experiences of the church. And while there are many examples of how leaders within the church relied on their personal proclivities, leading to harmful and dangerous practices, there are even more examples of how as the beloved community, followers of Christ have truly sought to follow the law of love.
Church history is filled with examples of binding and loosing, and how the church has and continues to interpret God’s will for our lives.
- For a long time, because God said in Genesis 3:16 that women should endure pain in childbirth, anesthesia wasn’t given to women experiencing difficult labor.
- In the United States, Ephesians 6 was used to justify chattel slavery because it says that Slaves are supposed to obey their masters.
- Women were prevented from following a call to ministry and ay leadership in the church because in 1 Corinthians Paul wrote that women were to keep silent and not teach men.
- Clergy were even prohibited from presiding at marriages of people who had been divorced because Jesus said such marriages break the commandments.
As the church, thank God that through Jesus we have been empowered to bind and to loose that which does not follow the law of love! Jesus called us as his beloved community to this task long ago. He called us to discern as the church what should be bound if it had become deadly or harmful and to loose whatever should be an example of his law of love.
One person alone cannot discern such matters of faith and life. The community is essential, which is why the reconciliation Jesus spoke of is of crucial importance.
So, Faith Lutheran, what is it that must be bound, and what should be loosed? On my own, I can’t offer any answers. Yet as the church, as the assembled faithful, who claim faith in Jesus, it is our call, with the whole church of all the believers to engage with the law of love in this task of binding and loosing. I am sure that there will be times when each of us will be stretched as individuals. Stretched in our understanding of how we can truly love our neighbor as our self. Stretched beyond what we can possibly understand on our own.
I know that this is a big responsibility. Thanks be to God that we hold this with all of our siblings in Christ. Amen.