In our Gospel text this past Sunday (Luke 17:1-10) we had this challening and perhaps perplexing command from Jesus. When someone we're related to (in the church) does or says something that hurts us (my paraphrase), then we are to rebuke them. That word "rebuke" typically means to 'express sharp disapproval or criticism of (someone) because of their behavior or actions' nad therefore it can have quite a negative connotation.
When we look at the Greek word translated 'rebuke', we see something slightly different. The word is 'ἐπιτίμησον' which is a combination of 2 words, the first part 'epi' meaning on or suitably on, and the second 'timáō' which means esteem, honor or place value. Together that can be to assign value as is fitting the situation. The fundamental sense is 'warning to prevent something going wrong'.
In the context of a brother or sister (spiritually speaking), our desire would be to prevent the relationship deteriorating but hopefully using this as an opportunity for growth and strengthening. This teaching from Jesus ties into a well known verse in the Old Testament that he quotes when asked what the greatest commandment was. Interestingly, the context for "loving our neighbor as ourselves" is when something painful (sinful) happens, so as to avoid compounding the problem by seeking some kind of retribution.
This commandment comes with the reminder from God, "I am the LORD". It is in response to God's great love , goodness and mercy towards us that we are to be the same with one another. "We love because He first loved us" as John says (1 John 4:19). But does "love" mean that we just keep allowing people to treat us badly? Not at all, the emphasis however is to "watch ourselves" to make sure no root of bitterness rises up within us. We seek to keep our hearts tender by vulnerably communicating directly with our brother or sister.
We have a responsibility to ourselves and to each other because of the relationship, something God himself has created and made possible. To not speak directly, to let things slide means that we become complicit in the sin. Rather, to lovingly (and frankly) share with our neighbor how their actions have affected us, even hurt us, invites them to move towards us with comfort (for the hurt) and confession (for their guilt). We then get the chance to be the good news of forgiveness and reconciliation as the Word takes flesh in us and between us.
Some element of judgment is going to be involved in the dynamics of relationships we experience together. What is important though is that we take our cues from the nature of our good, gracious and merciful God rather than from the world's way or even our family of upbringing. God's judgment values everyone and seeks to be restorative, believes for reconciliation and restored intimacy, and is willing to suffer in taking our sinful behavior upon himself but extending loving acceptance in return.
May we become a greater reflection of God's honest love as we seek to be a people 'Growing in love to live like Jesus'.
With love and prayers,