Sunday, September 10
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Matthew 18: 15 – 20
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
Matthew’s Gospel this week provides us some practical advice in resolving conflicts. With our perceived need today for quick resolutions of conflicts, we may often bypass this sound advice. With social media, cyber bullying, and in our haste to resolve our conflicts to our benefit, we can often seek quick justice in the public forum. In doing so, we achieve neither resolution nor justice. It comes from the misguided notion that placing our case before the public first jump starts public opinion in our favor. What we lose is the desire of first seeking reconciliation with the other party. Jesus outlines a more powerful approach to right a wrong. Once the wrong becomes public, parties are forced only into positioning and defending rather than resolving, and nothing is resolved.
This gospel passage contains three curious messages that can be easily overlooked without a more thoughtful, considered inspection and reflection:
- “…testimony of two or three witnesses.” The idea of these witnesses is that they are impartial and not witnesses that are stacking the deck on your behalf. Impartiality is a means of open concern for proper resolution and seeking true justice rather than simply winning the case.
- “…treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” At first glance, this may mean to treat the other with contempt – as an outcast to be hated. Rather, it actually means to treat them as an object of ministry. After all, we are instructed at the end of Matthew’s Gospel “…to go and teach all nations….” We should seriously consider that we are being asked to minister to all, even to the ones who may have wronged us.
- “…where two to three are gathered in my name…” We should remember that the context of this passage is in resolving a conflict rather than simply just any gathering. It does leave us with the notion that Jesus is especially present to us as we gather to resolve our differences.
Perhaps we can consider reining in our desire to be always right and to seek a quick victory. At the same time, we should restrain our need to make public the ills done to us by others without first considering Matthew’s simple prescription for resolving conflict.
Deacon Don Poirier