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17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Exploring the Scripture
The main theme of the Gospel of Matthew is the promise “God is with us.” From the expected arrival of the child, Emmanuel, in chapter 1, to “I am with you always, to the end of the age” which closes chapter 28, we are assured God is among us. Today’s passage echoes that promise.
Wherever and whenever two or three people who bear the name of Christ are together, they are part of the body of Christ. Therefore, God is with them. These verses invite us to recognize God, even when there is conflict with another member of the body. If one Christian sins against another, and the fault is pointed out in private, it is not truly private because God is present.
The practical point is that a Christian should first go and talk directly with the person with whom he or she is in conflict. No one else needs to be involved or hear about the conflict. Concerned about the break in the relationship, he or she is willing to do everything possible to mend what is broken.
If, however, God is not present enough in those two members to help them find reconciliation and healing, more of the body of Christ is needed. Though the justice code of Jesus’ time required witnesses in ways that might not apply now, the concept has merit today. One or two added disciples can be the ears or eyes of Christ by being a prayerful silent presence during the conversation.
If the second step fails, the whole body (the congregation) may be able to be the place and people where God is given space to heal a wounded soul or a broken relationship. The Message version of the Bible expresses the verse this way: “If he still won’t listen, tell the church. If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s forgiving love” (v. 17). We might apply this differently today, but the congregation can create an encouraging environment where people find their way toward healthy relationships. If confrontation is necessary, the attitude is never one of “I’m better than you.” We all wound. We all are wounded. The goal of confrontation must always be restoration.
At first read, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and tax-collector” can sound judgmental and punitive. But, a disciple is guided by the ways Jesus treated tax-collectors like Matthew and Zacchaeus. Even among Gentiles and tax collectors (the outsiders, the unclean, and “sinners”) early Christians were to affirm, “Here, in this place and these people, God is among us.” The people Jesus associated with will enter the kingdom of God before the religious authorities (Matthew 9:10–11, 10:3, 11:19, 21:31–32).
Verse 19 does not mean we can get anything we want from God if someone else agrees to join in asking it from God. A truer interpretation may be that when two people truly seek reconciliation, and ask God about it, God will grant their wish. Relationships will be restored.
When we are reconciled to God we become new. When we are reconciled with a sister or brother, we become new. The relationship does not go “back to the way it was” before the wounding or conflict. In reconciled relationships we journey into new ways of being with one another.
Originally Posted on: http://www.cofchrist.org/worship-resources-10-september-2017