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. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
This week I had some significant conflict with members of my family. It was, of course, about politics and I am not altogether proud about how I responded. But I thought it perhaps a teachable moment for all of us at such a ripe time for conflict and mistrust. Of course my mind was immediately drawn to Matthew 18, a very helpful passage when thinking about conflict and disagreement and relationship. In this passage Jesus reminds us that the things we ‘bind on earth will be bound in heaven and things we loose will be loosed in heaven.’ As Christians we often misinterpret this passage - because we think the things we hold close here will be with us in heaven and the things we let go off won’t go with us to heaven.
However the rabbinic understanding of this passage is almost the exact opposite! Jesus is referencing a tradition of ‘binding’ and ‘loosing’ in rabbinic law. Something bound is something not permitted - something we should not do; whereas something loosed is something allowed, something permissible.
Sometimes in family relationships we try to bind someone to us by trying to contain or control what they say or do, who they are or whom they love. This is a challenge and problem across the political and social spectrum -- none of us are immune. We put limits on relationship, on conversation, on everything in order to keep the relationship safe. We BIND all of that… only to realize that it is we who are imprisoned by it.
But, if we loosen it? If we let it go? If we acknowledge that that person is a beloved child of God and we have done what we can do and no more -- then we allow them and us to breathe. We allow space for God to enter into the relationship to soften our hardened hearts and to bring resurrection. We will be free in heaven to love and share in the joys of the Kingdom - even with those right now we barely feel like we can stand.
This week we are finalizing the movement of the historic plaques from our sanctuary to the rear garden of the rectory. We have loosened these monuments to a complicated past from our sanctuary - while lifting a weight off of our shoulders and our hearts. But we did not bury them, or destroy them - because to destroy them would be to destroy a part of ourselves - just as destroying a relationship with a loved one tears out a part of ourselves with it.
Rather we have left them in the garden, exposed to the sunlight allowing the freedom for the community to grow and expand while still staying in relationship with our forebearers.
You see, Jesus does not believe in ‘Cancel Culture.’ Everyone has the possibility for redemption. In this life or the next. It is my fervent prayer that some day soon I am privileged to sit at a table where Hattie Cromwell and Nancy Davis and the other enslaved men and women held by the Johns and Howard families sit down with Rev.’s Howard and Johns to tell their story, to share their hurt and pain, and their joys and hopes. This is only made possible by our loosening of these things here, so that we may be joined together in heaven.
Don’t be afraid to set free the things you have bound too close to you, the relationships, family, stories, histories that you hold on to. Especially the hurtful ones. Too often the Church has told people to stay in abusive relationships or to ‘reconcile’ with people who continue to hurt and abuse them. That is the kind of binding that can suffocate our hearts and souls. By loosening those bonds you free yourself from the abuse and from the power those memories have over you. More importantly you open up yourself to healing and perhaps offer the other an opportunity to heal as well.
And in the loosening you can breathe new life into that story and make possible a reunification here on this earth or perhaps in the hereafter.