“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. 16But 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. 17If 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, NRSV
I would suggest that, when dealing with forgiveness outside of community, our ideal is practice the same principles as within the community. That is the ideal. We strive to be willing to forgive and to offer forgiveness as much as we can and as often as we can. However, there are times where we are pushed beyond what is reasonable.
In the verses above, Jesus himself recognizes these limits even in community. If a community member is completely non-repentant and non-communicative then he acknowledges that this person becomes like a Gentile or a tax collector. In other words, this person becomes an outsider to you. This is a way of saying the relationship is severed.
When it comes forgiveness with people who are not part of our community, then this conversation about Gentiles and tax collectors is essentially our starting point. Now, to be clear, our desire is to be as gracious, forgiving, and merciful to outsiders as we would be to anyone else. But, we’re not talking about everyday life here. We’re talking about how to process extreme harm.
In short, here’s what I’m saying: When someone who is not part of our “hut” causes us great harm, there is nothing wrong with removing yourself from that relationship. I know this is a little confusing based on our conversation about demanding repayment for the debt, so stay tuned.
More on this tomorrow.