24 May 2012

Protecting the Guilty - Commandments 4 and 8

One of the aspects of the American Legal system is the presumption of innocence.  Innocent until proven guilty.  Granted, in the highly publicized cases, this sort of goes by the wayside, but this still remains the underlying principal of our system.  The accused is to be protected by law.

I would contend that within the Commandments, and specifically 4 and 8 (but not limited thereunto), that there is perhaps a similar and yet more astonishing principal at work.  Protecting the guilty.

Consider the 4th Commandment - Honor Your Father and Mother.  There are no conditions about their righteous conduct -- you are to honor them.  Period.  Even if they are guilty of whatever... you honor them.  Even if they misuse their authority over you, you honor them.  They are protected by this commandment.  You are to honor and serve them, regardless of how they have treated you.

Likewise, consider the 8th Commandment - Thou Shall Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor.  And, of course, like good Lutheran boys and girls, we explain this with the idea of putting the "best construction" on things, or explaining everything in the "kindest way".  This to is nothing less than an instruction to protect the guilty.  The neighbor's reputation is to be protected, even if they are guilty.  When person X wrongs me - let me bear the wronging and not bring shame to person X.  I am to protect even those who wrong me.

So often, in our interactions, we can forget that we are to protect the guilty.  We are to lessen the ripple effects of sin, to absorb it's impacts into ourselves so that their wickedness impacts fewer people and impacts them less harshly -- even lessening the impact for the guilty.  We show respect, and perhaps with our respectful conduct bring them to repentance.  We explain things the kindest way and reprove in private, hoping to bring to repentance rather than settling for letting rumors and shame change mere outward behavior.

Is this not what Christ has done for us?  What is salvation but Christ protecting us; we who are guilty of all things?  What is salvation but Christ Himself taking up the burden of our sin and doing away with it upon the Cross? 

This is what righteousness is - to protect the guilty, to do away with their sin, to forgive.  In all things we are to defend our neighbor -- not only our neighbor who is suffering unjustly, but even the neighbor who makes us to suffer unjustly.  We do so in the hopes that they will be brought to repentance and restored, not merely defeated in a way that (to borrow from yet another commandment) only seems right.

Thoughts and reactions, folks?


Rev. Paul L. Beisel said...

I like your thoughts on this Eric. Very good points.

Peggy said...

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The person/s that are unkind to us or guilty of other deeds are also those for whom He has died and loved. To hold against them that which He has forgiven is to deny that He has made full satisfaction for their sins. He has told us what pleases Him: to love one another and to forgive offenses. We want to defend ourselves, but we have a greater defender. Part of honouring Him with our lips is not dishonouring others. May He so live in us that His forgiveness and unqualified love flows out of us drawing all that we meet to Him.

Cheryl said...

Pastor, you say that one should bear the wronging and not bring shame to person X. But what if the same type of wronging is being done again and again, not just to you but to others? And what if person X is unrepentant? At what point does Matthew 18:17 come in? Or does it?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

A few things to note here.

1. There is a difference between bearing a wrong done to yourself and letting your neighbor be harmed. You shall turn the cheek for yourself, but you shall defend your neighbor. However, even in that, remember that the person injuring your neighbor is also your neighbor. The point isn't just to crush the wrongdoer but if at all possible to restore him.

2. What if X is unrepentant? Are we not to love our enemies? Indeed, if they are unrepentant it is all the more vital that we do good to them... if only by our proper conduct to demonstrate to them their own wickedness (I believe the biblical phrase runs along the lines of "heap coal of fire upon their head" or some such thing).

3. Matthew 18 works along the path of protecting the guilty. Chuck sins against me... I protect his reputation by dealing with him privately first. If he is unrepentant, only then are other involved... and then just a few, and only as a last resort openly. However, even then the goal is not to crush or destroy the one who has wronged you, but to restore him.

Or in other words, protecting the guilty... even from themselves.

Cheryl said...

Thank you, Pastor.

Cheryl said...

I actually have more questions, but no time to ask them right now. I'll try to come back later.