Sunday, September 04, 2005
Matthew 18:15-20 The Work of Reconciliation
"Reconciliation" in the Scriptures, means "to change a relationship of enmity into friendship", and this task is given to the Church as is clear from today's gospel reading. In Matthew 18:18, the task of binding and loosing -- a task already given to Peter (Matthew 16: 19) -- is given to the whole Church within a passage that deals with "winning your brother back" (v. 15c).
Forgiveness and reconciliation is of course incumbent upon every disciple of the Lord. We are reminded of this in passages that talk about forgiving (Matthew 18:21-22) and reconciling with another on a legal dispute (Matthew 5:25f), among others. But in Matthew 18:15-17, it is clear that among members of the Body of Christ, a process that is motivated by love should be carried out in cases where a relationship has been wounded.
The Church -- the Body of Christ -- is the agent of reconciliation. When a brother has offended one, the offended party makes the first moves towards reconciliation (v. 15). If the offending party does not listen, then Deut. 19:15 is effected (v.16). Finally, if the offending party still resists reconciliation, he is reported to the assembly, the Church itself. If even that fails to move him to reconciliation, it is then that he is treated as "a Gentile or a publican," that is, as someone to be saved.
The interpretation of v. 17 may seem strange to a lot of people who have read 1 Cor. 5:1-5, where Paul is adamant that one who has offended the Church with his morals should be "put under the power of Satan". But the case of a man having an incestual relationship with his mother should merit a closer look, after all, this is no offense against a brother, taken simply. It is an offense against the whole Church, a scandal because the immorality involved is not even committed within the environs of the community where it has transpired (1 Cor. 5:1). Nor is the case in Matthew 18:15-17 to be understood as comparable to that envisioned by Paul in 1 Cor. 5:11-13. What is mentioned here is an "offense against a brother", something that goes against a brother's honor, which is normally settled in a court. Paul is totally against Christians bringing another Christian to court (1 Cor. 6:1ff); he'd rather see them not having any disputes (1 Cor. 6:7-8) nor have any cause for it (vv.9-11). In Matthew 18:15-17, one finds a procedure that I think would please Paul. For its aim is not so much settling a dispute, but to effect reconciliation.