Whenever we read the gospels it is important to remember that there are different points of emphasis in each one—different things the author thinks is important.
And Matthew is said to be “The Church’s Gospel.” It talks about community and the church more than any other Gospel… and that is not to say everything it says about the Church is positive.
In fact, it is from Matthew that St. Augustine gets his assessment of the Church—that we’re a Mixed Body. We’re filled with both saints and sinners, and it will be that way until the end of time.
Christ abides in the church, and so does a fallen humanity.
And we see this way of looking at the church—hopeful, but clear eyed—front and center in today’s Gospel.
Matthew assumes that there will be times when members do wrong to one another, because that’s what happens when you are with other people.
That’s maybe even how you know you’re doing community right in a fallen world,
you care enough about one another that you’ll sometimes hurt one another.
Now, a way to think about this—I’m an only child… my parents always bragged about how good I was as a kid… I wasn’t that good, I just didn’t have any siblings to annoy or be annoyed by.
Well—if we’re doing it right, living together as a mixed community, there will be broken relationships… we’re just not that good, because in community we aren’t allowed to be that good.
And that’s why WHAT we do with these breaks in relationship is important. What we do when we’ve hurt one another matters.
As I said, we’re a mixed body—so yes, we sin against one another—but also yes Christ is there in that. How we live together in the brokenness can form us more fully into the image of Christ.
In medieval Japan when a ruler would break a tea pot or bowl they would send it back to China for repairs… and the vessel would inevitably come back stapled together with ugly metal staples… so eventually the Japanese created their own form of repair—Kintsugi, in which broken vessels were repaired with gold or silver—so the broken place became the most beautiful portion of the piece.
Likewise, how a Christian community, the Church, reacts when we sin against one another can end up vengeful and ugly.
Or it can end up repairing the breach and shining forth the light of Christ, re-shaping us for the better.
Think about parenting. If your daughter calls her brother a name you could allow him to call her a name back,
or you could get her to apologize and say something nice about him as restitution, you could repair the broken relationship.
And so Jesus’ advice as found in Matthew steers us to the 2nd way—the golden way, that repairs the breach and brings us toward being Christ in the world.
Firstly, the initial step is one of discretion—the sin is brought up one-on-one.
Randomly embarrassing your sister or brother in Christ in front of a bunch of people isn’t the point,
but instead the point is getting them to repent, so you can forgive them.
If that fails, the second step is to get a few people to help you confront them about the sin—and this is important—this 2 or 3 witnesses business is legal language that the Rabbis would understand, the question is, “do they have a case?”
After all, sometimes a trivial thing can be blown out of proportion and it takes a few faithful friends to say, “Hey, they didn’t mean that the way you took it.”
You are not trying to make your brother or sister in Christ walk on eggshells around you because you’re too sensitive,
you’re getting them to repent, so you can forgive them.
If that too fails, then the whole church gets involved—this is to make sure those two or three you’ve gathered were not lackeys—that you weren’t trying to triangulate this accusation of sin
—you know what triangulation is like right? It’s the worst form of passive aggression—you remain passive while someone else does the aggression, keeping your hands clean.
Well, if the whole church is involved that kind of deceit becomes much less likely, and that’s good,
because you aren’t trying to sabotage your sibling in the faith,
you are getting them to repent, so you can forgive them!
Finally, if all else fails, the person who has sinned against you ought to be treated like a tax collector or Gentile
—that is to say, as outside the community, but still welcome—after all Jesus is constantly shamed for welcoming tax collectors and Gentiles into the fold.
This breaking of community, alongside welcoming back to community,
is done so the sinner might repent and receive forgiveness.
In case you’re not getting the pattern here, the point of Matthew’s advice to the Church, found on Jesus’ lips, is that when someone hurts us we ought to let them know in a way that allows them to repent so we can forgive them.
I added the last two verses today to make that point explicitly clear.
In Christian community calls to repentance are real,
but so is the constant urge to forgive—even 77 times.
As I preached about last week, the Power of the Keys,
the binding and loosing of sin in heaven and on earth—as we read in verse 18 today
The Power of the Keys is given to the whole Church by Jesus
—the command to repent and to forgive is really all about speaking the Word of God to terrified sinners, which we all are.
That’s why the Church, this mixed body we are a part of, this group gather together glistening gold with our breaks and tears, is so amazing.
It is amazing because being church together means that from among us sinners the Promises of God show up.
The encouragement and the renewal,
The hope and love,
The faith freely given,
The freedom and the peace,
The forgiveness through Christ,
The stillness of the Spirit,
The promise of Grace.A+A