Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20
Our Sunday reading of Matthew’s Gospel has been more spotty than complete, but in this digest form it’s easier to see a pattern. Jesus is preparing his followers for the future when he won’t be with them.
Think about it. In the last few weeks Jesus extended his mission, if resisting, to non-Jews. He made his disciples confess who they believed him to be and he made Peter the base of his community. He’s warned us about the troubles to come and to let go, to break out of ourselves, to face them. Today he’s giving us directives how to deal with one another when we sin.
He’s preparing us to get on without him. After all, he’s been warning the apostles about his future arrest and execution.
The realism of Jesus’ advice strikes me. Jesus doesn’t say, as we do today, When there’s been a misunderstanding… No, he starts off, If your brother sins against you…He faces the fact that people sin, can seriously damage themselves and others. I can not only harm the community but I can back myself into such an attitude that I cut myself off from everyone, even from myself and God.
It’s also realistic to expect that not everyone wants to be “found”. Jesus gives us three steps because the first may not work. But don’t be fooled by the last proviso–that the totally unresponsive person be treated like a gentile or a tax-collector. Don’t I read in Matthew’s Gospel that Levi followed Jesus when he called him from his tax-collector’s booth? How can I forget how Jesus ultimately responded to the gentile Canaanite woman a few Sundays back? Tax collectors and gentiles are not lost causes.
But the deepest realism is Jesus’ trust that we can actually do this. We can humbly and reliably help each other get back on track; we can fulfill well his advice and need to hear his advice because each of us gets lost and needs help to get back.
That’s not optimism; that’s just looking deeper than I usually do into other people or myself. Jesus knows we come from the hand of God, that each of our lives is a pure gift built on the grace of God. That is why he can promise, where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.
Even when he’s gone, he isn’t absent. And because he’s among us, we certainly can bring one another back to God.