© Letting Harry Loose. Created with FilterForge.org by Ross Cochrane
Matthew 18:15-20 – LETTING HARRY LOOSE! A Parable.
He comes into the concert hall late, dishevelled, unshaven, and a little drunk, stumbles his way to the stage and pushes his way up the stairs to the little ensemble.
“Where have you been? We are almost about to start” says one of the other musicians, obviously annoyed. Harry does not answer. His breath is stale and he tries to tune his violin in the last few minutes, but fails.
The other musicians have no idea how much their role in unifying the string quartet, setting the tempo and shaping the sound of the ensemble will be severely challenged. This music especially created for the Ballet tonight is called the “Symphony of Agreement.”
Fortunately the other musicians start the piece with sounds like a gentle stream over the pebbles with crystal clear chords resounding throughout the concert hall.
Just then a glorious backdrop is lit and what looks like a golden ray of sunlight courses its way through the painted trees and rests on a stream. Ballet dancers appear from the wings, their movements choreographed with the musical harmonies of the string ensemble.
That’s when Harry begins to play. It is a discordant melody which rises over the other harmonies like fingernails scratching their way down a board. The audience flinches to its sound, recoiling from its intrusion. The dancers are confused momentarily but bravely continue.
Susan, one of the other musicians, plays a note as crisp and clear as a bell, to call the ensemble back to play the music as written, a pure and beautiful sound, and then a magnificent melody to invite the audience to forgive and respond.
But once again Harry’s out-of-tune notes rise like a wailing dog to destroy her attempt and none of the musicians can continue to play. The acrimonious wail echoes through the hall with jarring intensity interfering with all hopes of saving the moment.
“Will you stop playing!” Susan forcefully whispers. “You are destroying the arrangement entirely! Your contribution to this ensemble is an offense” But Harry plays on, oblivious to her pleas. Someone in the audience cries out in protest and with that Nathan, another member of the group stops playing, rips the violin away from Harry and asks him to leave. The ensemble seeks to salvage the rest of the performance.
Afterwards, the member’s of the stringed quartet are ready to string Harry up. They come with accusing fingers and strong words, offended by Harry’s actions tonight. “How could you do this to us, they say. We’ve practised for months and you go and get drunk.” Harry stands before them, tears running down his face and tries to apologise in between their angry words.
What action can they take concerning Harry?
Matthew 18:15 (NLT) says, “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.”
In the ensuing conversation, it is discovered that Harry has been keeping the wrong company, lost a lot of money gambling and with the pressure of the concert was foolishly persuaded to “drown his sorrows” at the pub with a so-called friend. After too many beers Harry suddenly remembered the String Ensemble he was meant to be leading that night.
When anger subsides, his friends gather around him, help him home, sober him up, and most importantly, as he expresses his shame, they forgive him and pray for him. It seems that harmony between Christian friends is even more important than harmony in their Stringed Quartet, despite the poor reviews.
“If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers, (Greek gather together in My Name) I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:19-20 NLT)
Matthew 18:19 (NLT) says “If two of you agree…” What Jesus is saying is personal and relational not simply organisational and legalistic. Agreement speaks of harmony; moving together, being in accord with eachother like a co-written piece of music played by a group of musicians who know eachother well.
It is not Harry’s raucus, disconnected and discordant notes of half-hearted, unsynchronised relationships, but a well-orchestrated piece of music in which souls play together, hear eachother and act in unity.
Jesus says if a relationship is restored with a person who has sinned against you then you are once again in agreement (in harmony) and that agreement has heaven’s approval. It is the idea of the Lord’s prayer to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
It’s not so much a matter of knowing how best to confront the sin, but how best to restore harmony to a relationship without disregarding the discordant nature of the sin. And it is about declaring forgiveness and restoration. If this is not possible, it is about recognising an irreconcilable fracture of a relationship where forgiveness is inappropriate due to the stubbornness of the other person. Not easy.
This is not God being our genie in a bottle, and coming to do whatever we ask when we agree on something. Neither was the last part ever intended to be a favourite quote when there is poor attendance at a prayer meeting. “Well, Lord, there’s just a few here tonight but thankyou Lord, You promised where two or three are gathered in Your Name, You will be here.” NO! It’s two or three gathered together in harmony after restoring a rift in a relationship due to someone doing the wrong thing. That’s when God’s forgiveness is there personally in the midst of us along with His presence.
Matthew 18:18 (NLT) says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you forbid (Or bind, or lock) on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit (Or loose, or open) on earth will be permitted in heaven. Can we simply disregard the context? No! Binding or forbidding is a reference to the penalty of forbidding them forgiveness because of their stubbornness, while loosing or permitting is restoring someone through forgiveness to a relationship of unity.
Our part is to act in a just and loving way in our relationships to do everything we can to get things right. We have authority based on God’s Word to act in His name concerning these issues, heaven’s stamp of approval when we are seeking to forgive.
Jesus is NOT giving us a pattern for Church Discipline as many call it, but a pattern for returning harmony and agreement to a discordant relationship. And He is there in the midst when that happens.
To His disciples, Jesus says in John 20:23 (NLT) “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
In the end, this can only happen because of the Cross. It is only when I am confronted by the work Jesus accomplished on the Cross that I can come to a point of acknowledging my sin. It is only when I know real forgiveness that I can in turn truly forgive others.
Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT) invites us to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behaviour. Instead, be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
The next night Harry leads the Stringed quartet with great humility and with a passion for recompense. The harmony is perfect. The unique melody on this night is a gift from God, and it almost seems that He has taken over Harry’s violin.
The Ballet dancers move in choreographed splendour to the voices of the instruments and keep perfectly in time with Harry’s rhythm and tempo, tones and timbres. He whispers into the ears of the audience with the soft notes and builds up the crescendos to crash upon the shores of their hearts.
God is there at the beginning and there at the finale. The Maestro and the maestro at work, playing a Symphony of Agreement, loosed in the corridors of heaven and brought to earth. The Ballet and orchestra receive a standing ovation that night and I think it was accompanied with the cheers of heaven.
Christ prompts you and me in our relationships. When we respond to Christ, admit our sin, we find forgiveness and harmony with Him and with eachother.
Lord Jesus, thank You for coming to save me. I admit that I have been out of tune with You and out of sync. I believe that You died for my sins and I want my life to be more than just about me. I hear the sound of God’s symphony of agreement and love and I accept You as my personal Lord and Saviour. Make my life Your instrument. Make me the person You designed me to be; to live my life in Harmony with You and others. Thankyou for saving me.