5 November 2016

Matthew 18:15-35

“Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (vv. 19-20)

Psalm: Psalm 41


Today's passage seems to complete our journey back from the mountain top down into the valley. We are offered guidance about church relationships, the power of shared prayer and the need to be forgiving. We might understand from this that Matthew's community of early Christian believers was suffering some of the same relationship problems that occur in the Church today. There is a very practical and clear set of instructions as to how to respond to a conflict, beginning with clear advice to make sure that the person that has upset you is told the nature of that upset and given a chance to listen and respond (verse 15). If they are unwilling to listen, that is the time to bring in other people, "witnesses" who can attest to the complaint (verse 16). If the one who has offended still refuses to listen, then they should leave the community of faith (verse 17).

What strikes me in this is the first part the emphasis on the person being offended making the move to go and explain why they feel wronged. It is not unusual in churches for ministers or others in leadership to be told that someone has done something wrong, sometimes to receive a complaint which then has to be dealt with formally and yet the person complaining has never told the offender what has upset them. It's so much easier to moan or complain about a third party than to face them and try to sort things out directly. Church communities can become dysfunctional and unloving quite quickly when things are allowed to fester - in the end truth, however uncomfortable, usually works best in ensuring positive relationships.

The passage ends with Jesus urging people to forgive each other (verse 35) - why should God forgive us, if we cannot forgive our brother or sister who has hurt us? The emphasis on forgiveness is important: it seems there is always the possibility for the one who has been sent out of the community to return.

To Ponder

  • What circumstances do you think need to be in place for someone to be restored to the church community?
  • Can you remember a time when you were upset by the actions of someone at church? How did you respond?
  • How able are we to forgive others - even seventy times seven?

Bible notes author

The Revd Micky Youngson

The Revd Michaela Youngson is Chair of the London District of the Methodist Church. She has served as a presbyter in circuits in Lancashire and London, as well as having been Secretary of Pastoral Care and Spirituality in the Connexional Team.