Matthew 18.15-20 (NRSV) If a brother (or sister) sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the brother (or sister) listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the brother (or sister) refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
Down to the Hard Work of Reconciliation – Part 1
Throughout scripture, it is recognized that sin, the breaking with or turning away from God, is a harming, real, lasting, living thing that brings with it . . . broken relationships, broken people, hurt within and hurt without . . .
In this passage from Matthew, Jesus is recognizing the impact of that broken being on the body of believers as a whole. In a very real sense, this is about unity.
The Genevan fathers read this text as a command from Jesus that within the body, we strive for agreement rather than seek for revenge. It is the recognition that wrongs will happen even within the body and that we must address them.
We are not to simply do nothing, to pretend as if nothing happened, allowing our wounds to fester. We are not to plot out our own course of getting even. We are not to withdraw our affection and support from another within the body because they wounded us.
We are to make the effort to restore right relationship between us. And the responsibility rests as much with the one wronged as it does with the one doing the wrong.
This, then, is the Jesus twist: the one wronged has as much responsibility for dealing with the wrong as the one having done the wrong.
The reason is obvious: if it’s about unity rather than about staying even (what we think of as justice) – if it’s about unity, it does not matter who makes the first move.
What matters is that the move – the move towards restoring relationship – be made.
In Leviticus 19.17-18, God instructs as to what the unity of family – the kind of unity Jesus speaks of – looks like: You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.
When it comes to family, I don’t know about yours, but in mine, we are seldom, if ever, all in the same place at the same time. In fact, most of the time we’re so out of step with each other that we couldn’t even walk in a parade together.
But that’s all right, because family isn’t about that. It’s about the quicker ones waiting for the slower ones because we were made to walk together . . . it’s about knowing ourselves to be linked across time and space . . . it’s about welcoming each other home . . . every time . . . it’s about simply being – in family, you don’t have to prove who you are or that you belong – you simply are. Some families are better at it than others, some are worse. But no family looks at you standing at the door and asks who you are.
In Matthew 18, Jesus’ use of kinship language of brother (and sister) is important – it matters to these ‘rules’ and how they work. This is a family affair.
When it comes to family, we approach each other with an intimacy seldom found anywhere else. Jesus’ point is that this level of intimacy – the closeness of what we call family – is to be found in the gathering, in what we call church.