Scripture for Sunday, 10 September:
Exodus 12.1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13.8-14; Matthew 18.15-20
A well-used technique of Bible study is to immerse ourselves in passages in different roles.
Readers of Jesus’ instructions for conflict resolution often place themselves in the role of members of the community, seeking to bring others to reconciliation. But what happens if we place ourselves in the role of the one needing to be brought forward for conversation? To be told, “You’re the one who needs to be confronted,” can be a shock.
Another way of looking at Jesus’ process of reconciliation is to consider the impact of division, dissent and damage to the community. Jesus tends to encourage his followers to focus on the health of the community rather than the individual.
The church recognises the importance of community in the way we worship, the way we administer sacraments, the way we invite and include people for membership. By focusing on community, we open ourselves to have our perceptions examined and possibly amended. In the end, when all else fails, Jesus tells his disciples to let go of the attempt at reconciliation and let the person be treated as ‘a Gentile or a tax collector.’ That’s language that his followers would have understood as being the definition of an outsider. In other words, if someone threatens the health of the body, that part should be excised.
But there’s a subtle twist in this instruction. Because the question then to be asked is: ‘How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?’ How did he treat the Canaanite woman who begged for healing for her daughter? How did he treat Zacchaeus or Levi?
Perhaps there are very broad limits to be placed on our obligation to forgive and reconcile. We can’t say, ‘OK, fine, that didn’t work. I don’t have to do anything more.’ Actually, this is good news for most of us, because we really are just as likely to be the one needing reconciliation as the one doing the reconciling, to be forgiven, as to forgive.
In all of this, we should remember how important community was to Jesus, because we are the body of Christ in the world in several ways, most particularly the way the world sees us. Are we, the church, seen to be focused and united in serving the world in compassion and care, as Jesus demonstrated? Are we able to go to the lengths that Jesus prescribed for mutual reconciliation?