The following is a reflection on Matthew 18:15-20, the Gospel lesson properly appointed for September 4th, 2011 according to the Revised Common Lectionary. (Proper 18, Year A) On this site there is also
• a reflection on the Hebrew Bible Lesson for the same day, and
• a version of the Prayers of the People, based on the lessons of the day.
If another member of the church sins against you…just talk about them behind their back.
If another member of the church sins against you…just call a bunch of people in the church to complain about them. You may even want to start a letter-writing campaign against them.
If another member of the church sins against you…just send them a nasty email. Copy the clergy. And, while you’re at it, CC the bishop.
If another member of the church sins against you…don’t say anything. Just avoid them. Un-friend them on Facebook. And, if you can’t avoid them on Sundays, then just leave the church.
In the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus talks directly to his followers to tell us what our fellowship is to be like. If a brother or sister in the faith hurts you, angers you, saddens you, or does you wrong in any way…you go and talk to them about it directly, one on one.
Not only does this manner of working out difficulties lead to forgiveness, it also does so in a graceful way. The offended party isn’t dragging the offender through the mud. If it gets worked out here, no one else needs to know.
Forgiveness is available without fear of embarrassment in the fellowship. It can be done quietly. Lovingly. Gracefully.
However, when that doesn’t work, you bring another person or two with you. This “ratchets” things up a bit, but still provides for grace amidst discretion.
And then, if things can’t be worked out there, you bring it to the whole church.
I’ve seen churches be totally undone by backbiting and whisper campaigns. It can be devastating-and not just to attendance and finances-but it’s devastating to the Christian witness of that parish, and the Universal Church.
For when that happens, the church ceases to be a place of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. One might say that it ceases to be a church in any discernible fashion.
Forgiveness is meant to be at the core of who we are, and to be honest with you, if we can’t do it between ourselves in the church, how can we ever be agents of reconciliation in the world?
Right here, Jesus gives a clear blue-print for how our communities might be holy places where holy relationships might flourish. And, it’s something that we need to practice until it is so ingrained in our DNA, we can’t imagine living another way.
Because, for Jesus, there isn’t another way.