Here we’ve got one of the most troublesome passages you’ll encounter in the course of reading the Gospels Sunday after Sunday. The modern mind will find this passage particularly difficult.
From this piece we can establish that Jesus never intended anybody to follow him in isolation. In fact, as we’ll see Jesus intended the very opposite – so much so that it makes us very uncomfortable.
This piece outlines disciplinary procedures in the early Church. But much more problematic for us is that Matthew places these guidelines on the lips of Jesus and there is no good reason to doubt that Jesus actually said these things.
Obviously they clash with “do not judge” which is the popular image of Jesus (Mr. nice guy) but if we exclude these disciplinary procedures from the repertoire of Jesus why not exclude “do not judge” too?
We simply must judge acts. If we fail to judge acts nothing can stand.
So, let’s look at Christ’s advice. It’s a series of steps, each a little more serious than the previous step.
“If your brother does something wrong go and have it out with him, between your two selves.”
We are to “have it out with him” (her) privately. There’s to be no gossip! Gossip is much too easy… and lazy! It’s the mark of the non-disciple. We’re called to a much higher standard, to step up to a mark that terrifies most people. We are to assume responsibility for Jesus missionary outreach acting in his name to win back our brothers and sisters.
The purpose of this engagement is to win back… think about what’s not said there. It’s not quite the same as our modern understanding of tolerance. Jesus tolerates to win back.
If private personal engagement fails, we are to bring one or two others because “the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge”. That’s a long way from gossip.
If that fails, we are to report the matter to the “community” which has been given power to bind and loose on earth. Most people have no problem with that; it’s Heaven’s ratification of that power that makes us uncomfortable! Clearly Jesus means an organized “community” of believers with people in positions of authority – otherwise to whom would you report it? He means the Church.
If the intervention of the Church fails we are to “treat him like a pagan or a tax collector” which effectively means exclusion.
This exclusion has a number of faces in the Church today, the exclusion of some people from receiving Holy Communion up to complete excommunication.
I told you this Gospel was going to be troublesome but we can’t get away from it… the Church we have today is not “made up” – even the hard bits. It’s got heavenly roots.
Here’s a link to Scott Hahn’s reflection:
Here’s a link to Pope Francis reflection during his Angelus address, Twenty-third Sunday, September 07th 2014
A link to Pope Benedict’s Lenten Message 2012 in which Benedict discusses “fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation” – well worth a read