“Church is not a voluntary organisation of autonomous individuals,” as so many contemporary associations are. Church is a gathering of different people who may never voluntarily associate, but who are drawn together by their commitment to Jesus Christ. Jesus has touched our lives and turned them around and upside down. Jesus has put us into a new community which reflects the gathering of all peoples at that great end of the world banquet. We live today in the light of that future.
Matthew has been telling us the story of the lost sheep before today’s Gospel reading. The shepherd, like God, who goes to extremes to find one lost sheep. God is our example, our inspiration and our strength to do what we need to do to live in harmony together.
God has gone to extremes to find me in my fallen, alienated from God state. God has gone to such lengths for each one of us. Therefore, we go to the same lengths, with the help of God, to be at peace with our fellows.
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault …” Jesus is aware of good communications practice. Other people cannot divine what is in my heart and mind unless I communicate it to them. If someone has offended me, it is my responsibility to go to them and have a conversation about it. They cannot be expected to intuit, or discern, that they have sinned against me. Withdrawing, pouting, flouncing, raging are not effective ways to say something is wrong. Simply go and have a one to one conversation.
Of course, real life situations are complex, have history. We do need to be wise before putting ourselves in a situation which may harm us further. This does not detract from the clear responsibility I have that if I have been sinned against, I need to go and talk about it with the one who has hurt or offended.
Harmony, being in relationship in the redeemed community which Jesus gathers around him, love, is the mark of this new community. So, every effort is to be made to keep and renew these bonds of love.
If the one to one approach does not work, then draw in trusted others to explore the issue further. Effort is made. Vulnerability is practised.
Only at this point do leaders of the church have the authority to bind and loose. They may ‘loose’ or let go an offender who refuses to see their fault and the hurt and harm they are causing the community by their attitudes and actions, or leaders may bind a repentant offender and draw them in.
Remember the context is God who will go to huge lengths to find the sinner. And the story that follows is the one about the unforgiving debtor, who is harsher on the one who owes him, than his master was on his own debt. We are to make every effort, offended and offender, to work it out. Because ‘by their love will you know that they are my disciples,’ Jesus said.
I recently found myself talking about someone negatively. The word ‘slander’ came up in a lectio divina one morning. I realised that in talking to others, I may have slandered that person, without intending it that strongly. God’s Spirit was whispering to me. I needed to repent and put it right, not necessarily with the one I was speaking of, they have no idea, but with the ones I spoke to. Jesus is the reason. I love him, he loves the one of whom I was speaking negatively. It depends upon me to live in love, for Jesus’ sake.