Be reconciled 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Mt 18:15-20 15 “If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. 16 But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that ‘every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or more witnesses’, as the scripture says. 17 And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector. 18 And so I tell all of you: what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. 19 And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
Other readings: Jeremiah 20:7-9; Psalm 63:1-5, 7-8; Romans 12:1-2
Today’s reading is part of what’s known as Jesus’s ecclesial teaching. The Greek word ekklesia is only used twice in the Gospels, here in verse 17 and two chapters earlier in Matthew 16:18.
The focus of Jesus’s teaching here is on relationships between members of the local church community. He is fully aware of the human frailty of his disciples – and of our own. There will be times when we are sinned against by our fellow Christians, and we in turn will sin against them. So Jesus gives some practical instructions on how to deal with this.
The very first course of action is to try to sort it out one to one. If this works and your brother or sister sees their sin and repents, then forgiveness can flow and the relationship is restored. No one else needs to be involved.
If this approach doesn’t resolve the matter, Jesus instructs us to take along one or two others. He quotes from Deuteronomy 19:15, where God’s instruction is that evidence needs to be established by more than just one witness. On a very practical level, this adds a reality check to our own judgment of the situation, so it is important that we choose people who can be objective.
If the person concerned still fails to repent then the matter needs to go to the whole Church, where a third opportunity is given for repentance. If this too is refused, the person concerned can no longer be treated as a member of the Church fellowship. Brotherly correction was a serious duty in the early Church and still remains so today.
Jesus makes two amazing promises at the end of this passage, in verses 19 and 20. First he promises to be present with us if we come together in his name. Then he also promises that if two Christians agree about something in prayer God will not let their prayer go unanswered.
Through his living presence in the Christian community Jesus inspires our prayers and decisions. This is why dealing with divisions in the community is so important.
Why does Jesus place such importance on dealing with sin in the Church community? Why is forgiveness a necessity?
Do you find it easy to deal with conflict with other Christians or would you prefer to ignore it? Why is this harmful for both you and the other person concerned?
Read Romans 13:8-10, part of which is given below. How do these verses relate to today’s Gospel reading and our attitude towards people that sin against us?
“Be under obligation to no one – the only obligation you have is to love one another. The commandments … are summed up in the one command, ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ If you love others, you will never do them wrong.”
The Lord’s Prayer reminds us that our personal forgiveness depends on our willingness to forgive those who sin against us. Pray for God’s will to be done in your life and forgive anyone who has sinned against you.
In John 17:11 Jesus prays that his followers “may be one just as you and I are one”. Think about the importance of unity in your local church community and the role of forgiveness in this.
Lectio Divina is an ancient tradition of reading and engaging with God’s Word
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