Read Matthew 18:15-20.
Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 18:18)
My grandfather was a funny guy. Not always respectful, but sometimes very funny. He was bipolar. One time I visited him at a mental hospital and he had a coupon clipped out of the newspaper pinned to his shirt. The coupon said “30% off.” He allowed as how there were some around there who were 50% off, or even 75%.
Every morning a nurse would bring him a cup of orange juice and a cup for a urine sample. She would greet him with a cheery “and how are we this morning” and collect the sample. One morning he poured the orange juice into the sample cup. She said, “my, we’re a bit cloudy this morning, aren’t we.” He picked up the sample cup, peered at it, said “yes, it appears that we are—better run it through again!”, and drank it down, to her horror.
In his church at that time there was a practice called “house visitation,” though it was generally referred to in the original Dutch as huisbezoek. A pair of elders would visit church members at home and check up on their spiritual lives. As I understand it, my grandfather may have been guilty of a public infraction — playing sport on Sunday, if I remember correctly. A self-righteous elder brought this up, but he graciously allowed that “you know, we elders are human too.” My grandfather deadpanned, “no shit.” I don’t think that got him any good church member points. But then again, maybe that was a balloon that needed popping.
A practice such as huisbezoek would be almost unthinkable nowadays, in this society. Polite society is not judgmental. It’s not my business how you make a living, or what you do on Sunday, or how you treat others, or whom you sleep with, or whom you pray to. We are individuals, responsible only for ourselves. No one tells us what to do or to believe. After all, Jesus tells us not to judge, right?
And yet conflicts arise. One is unfaithful. One attacks another. One acts in a way that harms another person, or the community. Jesus would have us deal with sin in the community. Deal with it as gently as possible, but deal with it nonetheless.
And even when sin doesn’t harm the community, there are those we love so much that we cannot let them harm themselves without a word. And they love us so much that maybe they will listen to that word.
Francis of Assisi wrote that
You should accept as a grace all those things which deter you from loving the Lord your God and whomever has become an impediment to you, whether they are brothers or others, even if they lay hands on you. And you should desire that things be this way and not otherwise. . . . And love those who do these things to you. . . .
There should not be in the world any brother who has sinned, however much he may possibly have sinned, who, after he has looked into your eyes, would go away without having received your mercy, if he is looking for mercy. And if he were not to seek mercy, you should ask him if he wants mercy. And if he should sin thereafter a thousand times before your very eyes, love him more than me so that you may draw him back to the Lord.*
Love is the tincture that transmutes judgmentalism into healthy community. Sin cannot be ignored, but when you forgive sin here, it is also forgiven in heaven.
It’s no accident that “discipline” is a transmutation of “disciple”.
*Francis and Claire: The Complete Works, Paulist Press, 1982, pp. 74-75.