Sunday Gospel - Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said, ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.
‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.
‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’
In writing the Gospels, one of the things the author did was to pull together the oral tradition that had already existed for a generation or so.
Just like the stories that are joyfully revisited at family parties and get-together's, the words of Jesus were repeated at every opportunity when the Followers came together in prayer and Eucharist. Even a sentence or a phrase would be preserved as a meaningful gift of witness from those who were there.
In Matthew, you see the phrases almost as sharp instruction. Matthew doesn't surround them with story as Luke does. So Jesus speaks on the way and we catch his teaching as a disciple would following along in his wake.
The first part of this passage is not an altogether new teaching to the followers. The Old Testament always teaches the importance of making things right with your neighbour and the different ways it may be achieved. And the right order. After all, how many troubles have become impossible to solve because too many people got involved too soon?
Again, at the end of the paragraph is the instruction that the people would expect. If someone refuses to be part of the community - like a pagan or a tax collector - then they are outside the community. And it does happen even now, in Christian communities, that people who do something wrong are shunned by the community, excluded or expelled.
Is this what Jesus is saying? Or what we are hearing?
If this is Jesus' teaching then - what would Jesus do?
For Jesus, pagans and tax collectors were not people to be shunned. Jesus has embraced those people that he was taught to avoid. He understands that a person's actions may be made out of fear, of custom, of necessity. He knows that community is not just about a group of people who think the same way. He teaches that community has to be bigger, more inclusive and more tolerant than that. To welcome the pagan, even if their ways are not your ways. To love the tax collector, even if their priorities are not your priorities.
A difficult teaching when you think about it, not one of self-righteousness but of humility and hospitality.
In which case, the next two paragraphs must mean something more.
To know that your must answer your decision to bind or loose before the throne of a merciful God.
To know that all your deliberations are watched over by the One who was willing to forfeit his life both for the penitent thief and the one who rejected him.
And whose teaching asks you to do the same.