For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you” [1 Corinthians 5:12-13].
I would like to clarify a few things concerning these verses to which I alluded in last week’s reflection. What is the intent here when Saint Paul says, “Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge…? Drive out the wicked person from among you.”
When a person is received into the Orthodox Church, it is with the understanding that he or she freely embraces the non-negotiable teachings of the Church. This is a choice they make after being properly catechized. But once someone rejects or disavows those non-negotiable teachings, this opens a person up to the discipline of the Church. So when a person faces this discipline inthe Church, even if it means being excluded from Holy Communion, the aim is not punishment; rather, the intent is to bring him or her to the state of repentance. One might even say that one is not excluded from Communion, but that one excludes oneself from Communion by the choice he or she has made. This is what I think Saint Paul means when he says we are to judge those inside the Church. To judge one inside the Church does not, in my mind, mean a person is condemned to damnation.
Isn’t this what happens to the Prodigal Son in Luke’s gospel? In his alienation from his father, which he chose to embrace, he couldn’t get any further away from or become further alienated than when he found himself in a pigsty, craving the food the pigs were eating. He lost everything; he hit rock bottom. But when he remembered what he had with his father, he “came to his senses” and returned home, hoping to be treated as one of his father’s hired servants. He came back to a father who welcomed him with open arms. He threw a feast for him. He celebrated the reality that his son, who had been dead, was now alive; he, who had been lost, had now been found [Luke 15:32].
Isn’t this what happens when parents put their children on a timeout for misbehaving? Isn’t this a form of exclusion or alienation? What does a child do during a time out? He or she takes the time to get a handle on his or her emotions and “puts on his or her thinking cap,” to further reflect on what he or she had done so that he or she can speak with his or her parents in order to learn how to act differently, and take responsibility for the misbehavior. This is the meaning of discipline. After “repenting,” so to speak, he or she is allowed to rejoin the group and be restored to communion with the rest of the family. Though the words “drive out the evil person from among you” sound harsh to today’s mind, the goal of this act is to lead the child to experience a change of mind and heart, so that he or she might be restored to communion.
The Lord’s blessing be upon you,
The unworthy +Paul