Monday, February 28, 2011

Gregory the Great on the Burdens of the Pastor

"Some things, even though openly known, ought to be tolerated for a while.  That is, when circumstances afford no suitable opportunity for openly correcting them.  For sores by being cut at the wrong time are the worse inflamed; and, if medical treatments suit not the time, it is clear that they lose their medicinal function.  But, while a fitting time for the correction of subordinates  is being sought, the patience of the church leader is exercised under the very weight of their offenses.

Therefore, it is well said by the psalmist, 'Sinners have built upon my back' (Psalm 128:3; LXX).  For on the back we support burdens; and therefore he complains that sinners had built upon his back, as if to say plainly: those who I am unable to correct I carry as a burden laid upon me."

Gregory the Great (c. AD 540-604)

The above quote was included in CPH's The Lord Will Answer (2004), described as "a daily prayer catechism."  Gregory's words resonate with my own experience, although I have to admit that I struggle taking his advice completely to heart.  I understand well that sometimes an easy solution to a problem does not always present itself, and we must bear with it until one is found.  However, I can see how his advice that although something is "openly known" it should still be "tolerated for a while", might seem as if the pastor is being asked to essentially 'look the other way' for a time.  Yet, do we know if he was referring to obvious sins within the congregation, or to circumstances, though undesirable, might still be tolerated, not as "openly known" sins, but rather as examples of sinful human weakness?  Obviously, we cannot willfully "tolerate" open sins, especially those which are offensive to the church, although we often do this, pastor and people alike many times.  And if he might be referring to human sinfulness, which to some degree he must, might he differentiate between those circumstances based upon the seriousness of the sin? 

P.S.: The psalm verse to which Gregory quotes is quite different in the ESV, which is based on the Hebrew.  It reads (Psalm 129:3): "The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows."  This is quite different than the LXX.  Might this present a problem for the 'proof text' he thus provides regarding his stated argument?

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