July 7, 2019

THE GOSPEL AND DISCIPLINE
4th Sunday after Pentecost

BIBLE READINGS
Galatians 6:1-10
2 Kings 5: 1-14

 REFLECTION

Discipline has become such a dirty word in the church nowadays that we almost avoid it completely. Often, we think that discipline is akin to abuse.

 This is understandable. I think this happens as the direct result of the revelation of abuses in many church denominations. One victim was canned 107 times in one week and sexually abused more than 50 times. He likened his experience to being in a prison camp, the possible only difference was that they weren't starved.[1] I don’t think we can get a better description of the situation than his.

 Indeed, there is danger when discipline is combined with absolute power in human beings. Power, in the hands of sinful humans, will corrupt. And absolute power, in the hands of sinful humans, will corrupt absolutely.

 We all have witnessed this being played out in many institutions, including churches. When power goes unchecked, the result is not discipline, but abuse; or abuse masked as discipline.

 As such, we don’t like to think of God as someone who discipline people. But, the Bible is teeming with examples of God disciplining God’s people through different means. Now, it is debatable how does God discipline us or how far would God go to discipline us? Would God bring disaster to discipline us? Would God take someone that we love to discipline us?

 No one can answer the questions conclusively and different people will have different opinions. But, I think it is biblical to say that discipline is one of the tools that God uses to help us grow.

 Discipline was also a fundamental part of the early Christian community. Discipline in the Church was the reflection of the Law of Christ under which they lived. We can see this in the community of believers in Galatia that Paul founded.

 There, discipline manifested itself as accountability. Members of Paul’s Galatian church must be accountable to one another. They had to keep an eye to one another, not to spy on one another, but to help one another. We can even say that accountability was the glue that keep them together and true to the Gospel.

 Recently, the Chinese communist government tries to create what many call as digital dictatorship. Using modern technology, like CCTV, they try to monitor the behaviors of their 1.4-billion citizens. At the heart of it is a social credit system. Good behaviors will give someone more credit, which in the end will be rewarded. But bad behaviors, like drinking or smoking, will take credits away, which will lead to punishment.

 The reason for accountability in the Galatian church, however, was not to create a similar big brother. It was not about control. No. The reason was the acknowledgment of our sinful nature. None of us is good enough to live up to the standard of the Gospel without the help of others.

 Some people like to correct me whenever I answer, “I’m good,” to the question, “How are you?” They believe that the correct answer is, “I’m well.” I guess they are right. None of us is really that good to be able to claim that we are good.

 Each one of us can give in to temptation. Each one of us can go astray. As such, each one of us needs the other to help us stay on track.

 In the part of his letter to the Galatians that we read today, Paul used the Greek word ‘katartizo’. The word was a medical term. It referred to rightly joining the bones or joints so that healing can properly occur. The purpose of accountability, therefore, was not punishment, but restoration and healing.[2]

 So, God disciplines us not to punish us, but to bring healing into our life. And pride is often the main obstacle that hinders us from achieving that goal. I dare to say that humility is often the main tool that God often uses to discipline us. The first thing that God often does in one’s life, before God uses that person, is to deal with his pride.

 We can see this in the life of the great Commander of the ancient Syrian army, Naaman. He was a great man, feared and respected by his allies and enemies alike. Yet, this powerful man had a disease of the common people.

 But there was more to his story. His journey towards healing required him to put aside his pride. It required him to listen to the lowest in his society: a foreign girl, Elisha’s servant, and his subordinates.

 Being a man of great importance, he used to be treated like a royalty, even by Kings. Yet, he had to swallow his pride when Elisha refused to see him in person and send his servant instead. He also had to wash himself in a river that he described as inferior to the rivers in his homeland. He had to go down, literally, to the river, but also, figuratively, from his lofty place.

 Naaman had to learn that the healing of his soul must come before the healing of his body. And to achieve that healing, he needed to learn some hard lessons first.

 So, friends, discipline and accountability should never be dirty words in the Church. On the contrary, they should become the main tools that will help our community grow in faith.

 But, these two words cannot be separated from another word: gentleness. Everything has to be done in the spirit of gentleness. Everything has to be done in the acknowledgement that none of us is perfect. There is no place for anyone to be judgmental towards the other. We are here together to help one another to achieve one goal: to be more and more like Christ in our life. Like Paul says, accountability always begins with self-reflection; nothing more, nothing less.

 Amen.
Toby Keva

[1] “Marist Fathers to be sued for hundreds of thousands of dollars by Tasmanian sex abuse victims” an article by Henry Swartz on www.abc.net.au (Posted on 11 May 2019 at 6:30am)

 [2] 2 Kings 5/1-14 Commentary by Brian C. Jones - Working Preacher - Preaching This Week (RCL)