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Matthew 18: 15-20 (CEB)
If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.
"We Need to Talk"
These “we need to talk" moments are the topic of Jesus’ address to the community he is developing. It is an honest moment from Jesus. He knows that the community is not, and will not ever be, perfect. He knows our human capacity to mess things up. To get in our own way. To put our foot squarely in our mouths. He knows these things about us. (He’s got a great object lesson in the person of Peter!) So he gives us a way to work things out. He lays the groundwork for us be together in community.
The “we need to talk" moment is brought on by some kind of wrong doing. As Jesus puts it, “If your brother or sister sins against you…” The sin here is generic. Probably not some catastrophic event, some moment worthy of prison, but more in the category of the mundane. Some everyday moment where we step on another’s toes, get in each others way, or put our foot squarely in our mouth. Someone shows up late to a meeting. The mail did not get taken to the post office. Bills did not get paid. The litter box did not get cleaned out. We’re talking about everyday events here. Things that happen with great frequency.
What Jesus addresses is how we respond in these moments. In our humanness we maybe lash out with a passive aggressive comment. Perhaps we take a dig at the offending person. Perhaps we ignore the incident completely. There are a number of options on the table. And Jesus knows that we almost always pick all the ones that do nothing to help the relationship. We are prone to pick the ones that are harmful instead of helpful. We let the issue slide. We move on with the thought of “it will get better” or “this will be the only time,” or “they are getting better at it.” The list goes on. This is not what Jesus has in mind. Jesus call us to direct action in these moments - direct action out of respect for the other person.
Jesus call us to direct action in these moments - direct action out of respect for the other person.
Interpersonal dynamics are crucial to preserving community. Attacks are coming from outside and internal conflict must be managed if the group wants to survive. Confronting those who have wronged us in a nonviolent, direct way is important. Jesus calls us to bring the grievance to light, to let the other person know.
The purpose of this conversation is to restore the broken relationship. The wrong is not allowed to stand and go unacknowledged by either party. The one wronged is engaged in actively seeking to bring the other back into the community. It’s important to remember not to assume too much in these moments. Sometimes the other party has no idea that a wrong has been committed. How many times have we been angry with someone who has no idea that we have been offended. They will never know unless we say something.
The purpose of this conversation is to restore the broken relationship.
If the private meeting does not work, then we are told to bring in witnesses. “But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses.” This is not to gang up on the offender, but to be in community with one another. Other folks may help cooler heads prevail. Other folks may help the pair to connect the dots of the conversation. And again the goal is about restoring what is broken, not separating or shaming.
If the small group does not work, the whole community gets involved. Take it to the “church,” Jesus says. Take it to the gathering of people. Not to put the offender on trial, but to help the moment of restoring, the moment of reconciling the broken relationship. This is not about kicking the person out by community vote, as it is sometimes interpreted and used. This is about the wholeness of the group.
An important part of these moments is they are not about forgive and forget. We use this phrase often, but do we really ever “forget.” More often than not we say this phrase but carry around the brokenness until we can use it for personal gain. Our ill feelings dwell inside like poison until we lash out in anger and drive the wedge deeper. Jesus calls us to acknowledge the wrong. We are instructed to bring it up, talk about it, and make it known to the other party.
This movement of reconciling is done in community - “…wherever two or three agree about any case…” Not a generic “two or three.” Jesus as particular moments in mind. We are comfortable with the “where two or three are gathered” mantra. We use it to justify our gatherings when numbers are low. “Oh, we have two or three, Jesus is here, we can move on,” but that’s not what Jesus is talking about in this instance. This is about working through a breakdown in community and it involves people who witness and process together.
What we have is a promise from Jesus to be with us in those moments of tension, when reconciling actions are taken. These are vulnerable moments. I know that I get nervous when confronting someone about a wrong, if and when I even bring up the moment. The weight of the conversation is heavy. It’s hard to be in that vulnerable place. Yet Jesus promises to be there with us. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” The power of Jesus’ promise to be with us in those moments of conflict is incredibly empowering.
What we have is a promise from Jesus to be with us in those moments of tension, when reconciling actions are taken.
May God be with you in those moments of vulnerability and grant you the grace to restore and build up you relationships.