‘If anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a sprit of gentleness’
This verse hits me between the eyes. I like justice. I like things done the right way, in an ordered fashion. When I don’t do things in the right way, in an ordered fashion (as has happened for most of my aware and responsible life it seems to me) I enjoy telling myself off at great length, denying all the things God wants to give me to myself and generally being miserable. For some reason I think it suits me and I deserve it.
As a Church leader, I struggle to balance the liking I have for things being done what I consider to be the right way, with being gracious, merciful and, like Jesus, abounding in steadfast love. When we’re wronged, or when our Church, our poor, our weak, our nation, are wronged, there’s a temptation to do anything but ‘restore such a one [wrongdoer] in a spirit of gentleness. We want redress. Sometimes wanting redress spills over into wanting revenge, but ‘vengeance is mine, says the Lord’ is an extremely useful touchstone to remember to hold on to.
Paul’s talking about the process of restoring a transgressor in to a Church family or fellowship here, but I think it is safe to apply the principle to other areas of our lives and work. Throughout society, there is so much corruption, so much injustice, as pockets are lined, cronies are helped and capitalism works in favour of the winners, the corporations and those in positions of authority. We can and we must, in line with Scripture, protest prophetically about this. A society is, I think, partly at least judged on how it supports its weakest or poorest members. We are not all supposed to be rich or to ‘succeed’ but there is enough for all of us. That not all of us have enough is a scandal for which history should judge us.
There are particular people, institutions and ideologies that are responsible for the inequalities in our society at present. That it seems like they don’t seek to equalise things, but instead seek to further inequality (not in word, but in deed) is, again, a scandal. So what are we to do? My temptation is to stridently stand against things, to cry out against injustie, to seek an uprising even. Perhaps at some moments those are the right responses. All the same, I’m tempered with this one verse today. These people, these institutions, these ideologies even, that make me so angry are also in need of mercy, grace, generosity, love. To show those things, at the same time as seeking justice for all, is what a Christian truly should consider their calling.
And so, through it all, I am undone and find myself once again in need of the mercy which can only be found at the foot of the cross.