Posted on Tue, Sep 12, 2017
September 10, 2017
Matthew 18:15-20 “Forgiveness is Strength”
Reproving Another Who Sins
15 ‘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. 16But 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. 17If 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. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, 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. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
Today’s Gospel text is about as close to a “how to” book for church leadership as I have ever found. “How to” books are abundant and diverse in our society. Why? I am not sure, other than we don't want to do ‘anything wrong’ or miss a step and mess everyone up. My favorite How to manuals deal with boat parts or crockpots. But today’s text is about relationships within The Church.
The church is not a country club or social institution. The church is not a business where we produce something, sell it and hope we make a profit. Some people think we should run the church, like a business, but I don't think so. We don't produce stuff, we are who we are because we have this common belief that we have been loved beyond all understanding and this Good News CAUSES us to want to make sure the entire world knows this blessing of Good News. If we produce anything, I hope it is kindness, joy, hope, mercy, love and even acts of justice.
The church is a strange place, it is the place where we believe we are forgiven by the Living God. And we confess that we are made “Children of God, through this great gift. Wow! Amazing! The Cross of Christ helps us to see that this grace wasn't cheap, even though it is free.
But at the same time, the church is made up of people. And people are defined by relationships, and within community and relationships there must be basic understandings as to how we are to relate to each other as a community.
But as we all know, especially Jesus, as soon as we involve human beings into the picture, there is the potential for trouble… with words or actions, we can hurt each other, sometimes without even knowing the damage we have caused. Most human beings, when we feel attacked or hurt, want to strike back! Or, sometimes we demand retribution! We love that phrase, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!” If I have been struck, I have every ‘right’ to strike back and make things ‘even.’ Did you know the phrase “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was created so that clans wouldn't get carried away in their anger and take out more than the number of their own clan when there was a feud? It was to set a limit on our anger and demand for revenge.
Sometimes we will go at great lengths to satisfy our desire for retribution and to ‘make things right!’ But as soon as we feel the demand for revenge, or retribution, we are actually now under total control of this DEMAND to make this right. When we fall for this human demand for revenge or retribution, we loose our human freedom. The desire to “make things right,” “to exact revenge” or “demand retribution” is actually a sin because in our demand for retribution, we actually become bonded to sin and cannot free ourselves.
Remember the context, “the church.” We need to remember what we believe, “We have first been loved, and therefore we are called to love each other.” When we were forgiven through the Cross of Christ, it was never a square deal. Our forgiveness came at the cost of the Savior of the world… tell me this was a fair deal! God is not interested in fairness, logic, retribution to make a point, or ‘to make things even.’
Jesus, through the words of Matthew gives us direction in dealing with someone we feel has wronged us. Notice first, that we are to go directly to the person we are having issues with. Do not go to someone else and talk about the “problem person.” If you are doing that, you are only dragging an innocent person into your issues. And most sadly, by triangulating with an uninvolved person, it only results in here-say, gossip and a one-sided judgmental image now painted on the so-called, “problem person,” resulting in the slandering of the “problem person” and character defamation which will never be forgotten in the minds of the innocent third person who has been triangulated into the issue.
Matthew is just stating the obvious process for dealing with difficult issues, personal conflicts, misunderstanding and the like.
When Matthew says, “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,” this is very helpful because SOMETIMES the person making the complaint is not correct in their interpretation at all, and a third party is need to confirm the complaint and clarify the issue to the person bringing the complaint.
Now, if the complaint gets to the point that the entire leadership of the community is required to clear up the issue, it is their job to be faithful and just.
Now, Matthews states clearly, “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.”
What does this mean? What is your first reaction? Our first instinct is to judge and sentence the person just like anyone would in Jesus’ day. Gentiles were considered outsiders, and tax-collectors were essentially traitors, worthy of scorn, rejection, excommunication…
BUT WAIT… CURVEBALL! The church is the Body of Christ, not a country club or social institution! What did Jesus say and do regarding Gentiles and tax-collectors? Jesus welcomed them both, disregarding and rejecting the values, judgement and desires of retribution demanded by society. Jesus didn't care what the people thought of “fairness.” As far as Jesus was concerned, all of those who were quick to judge the tax-collector and believed in their piety more than the mercy of God were just as much as to be pitied as the worst sinner of all… if not more.
Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”
1 Corinthians 15:20-22, “ But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.”
Matthew is declaring to the church, even after you have found this person ‘out of line,’ YOU DON’T REJECT AND CAST OUT THAT PERSON! After this entire process, even if you find fault with the person, that is all the more reason to make sure they are welcomed AND considered important parts of the Body of Christ! No one is greater or less within the church! All have sinned, and all have been forgiven, and all of us are on this journey called “life in faith!” All people are essential for the Proclaiming of the Kingdom, especially those who have experienced the depth and mercy of forgiveness!
Does this sound ridiculous? According to the values of modern society it certainly doesn't make sense. Faith is stronger that fear and doubt, therefore it takes great strength… NO it requires great strength sustained by faith to forgive! But if you do not forgive, and you hold onto the desire for retribution you will soon become cursed and burdened by the sin called, “Hate!”
Desmond Tutu in a discussion entitled, “Why Forgiveness is the Only Way Forward” once said, Genuine forgiveness cannot be compelled or coerced—it can only be offered or given. It is the gift of the injured party and it is what frees the victim from the perpetrator.
Through the Cross of Christ, all have been forgiven and made free, live in that freedom and share that mercy. Amen.
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