Friday, September 4, 2020

Gospel Reflection: Matthew 18:25-30

Gospel   Matthew 18:25-30 
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member 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 member 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.


In the classic Baptismal of  the UMC, the prayer for the young child included these words "...that,  by the renewing and restraining influence of the Holy Spirit, she may always be a true child of yours, serving you faithfully of her days." God's work of restraining evil is under-appreciated!

In Matthew 18:25-30, Jesus addresses the need to limit the damage that can happen when one is wronged by another church member. We are to first “go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” If those who are in disagreement cannot come to a resolution, asking witnesses to be present to listen and observe strict confidentiality, can protect both parties. There is very strong negative reinforcement for following this wisdom!  One would want to avoid an airing of dirty laundry in the presence of the church! (Matthew 18:16-17). 

Earlier in Matthew, Jesus advises that if we remember a brother or sister has something against us, we are to leave worship, and go to be reconciled to them.  (Matthew 5:23-24) Because great injury is possible, we are to “come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge and the judge to the guard, and you will thrown into prison.” (Matthew 5:25-26) 

Real harm can be done from having an unresolved, interpersonal conflict being made public, because next step in Matthew 18 is banishment- making a church member an outsider. I have known individuals who have been deeply wounded by such a process. I still consider these folks fellow believers, even though they may have decided to avoid churches altogether.   

The issue of “binding” is to first do no harm. The restraint of evil is what God is already doing, and it is a significant, if forgotten, ministry of the church, even as I let “loose” the good in ministry to he world. Great harm or great good can be done depending on how honest disagreements are addressed. 

The body of Christ is like a human body, so think in terms of a human organism. Being a member of the body of Christ, I affect the rest of the body. The health or disease of the organism, the church, makes its own witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. More than that, we pray to be “one with each other,” at Christ’s Table, Holy Communion. 

What if the harm happened long ago, or the person involved is no longer alive but still in my memory? It’s still possible to make peace. In the Lord’s prayer, I pray God’s forgiveness and peace for others, and also ask for God’s forgiveness and peace: “Forgive us our trespasses as we  forgive those who trespass against us.” If the person is far away, or if it’s unwise to go to them, I can still make amends by doing good for a person who is currently apart of my life.  I can make peace by “paying it forward.” 

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