Friday, September 5, 2008

Where Two or Three Are Gathered...There is bound to be trouble!

By Brian Kirk

Matthew 18: 15-20

Though it's not my week, I thought I might post some quick thoughts on this Sunday's gospel text as I continue to ponder my sermon.
I think this passage from Matthew on how to handle conflict within the church is a prime example of why we must read scripture in context -- and preach it in context! Taken alone, this is a very un-Jesus like passage, suggesting that if we ultimately can't correct our brother or sister, we should basically throw the bums out. Focusing on the text alone, this might have been one of those occasions where I actually argue against scripture.

But, these words from Matthew take on a different light when we consider what comes before and after in the gospel. Prior to this passage, Matthew shares Jesus' parable of the Shepherd who is willing to leave behind his whole flock in order to find one lost sheep. And after this passage, we have the famous exhortation about forgiving another person seventy times seven. What, then, to make of this passage on conflict in the church in between these radical passages of giving all to save one who is lost and offering abundant forgiveness that doesn't keep a record of wrongs?

Perhaps when Matthew's Jesus is saying that we are to treat an errant brother or sister like a tax collector, we are to remember how Jesus treats such persons elsewhere in Matthew's gospel: with love and radical welcome. In this context, Matthew has taken a piece of conventional wisdom from his culture ("correct the wrong-doer or throw them out") and placed it in the context of Jesus' radical teachings, forcing us to see this so-called conventional wisdom in light of the unconventionality of the Empire of God.
My two cents.

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