Sunday

“If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (vv. 17-18)

Matthew 18:15-20 Sunday 7 September 2014


Background

Matthew's Gospel is the most 'Jewish' of the four New TestamentGospels, and it reminds us that some of the earliest Christiansstayed as practicing Jews who believed in Jesus as their Messiah,but rejected Paul's radical conviction that the death andresurrection of Jesus had created a new humanity (Galatians 3:28), where the distinctions between'Jew' and 'Gentile' (non-Jew), (and 'male' and 'female') as definedin the Jewish Law (Torah), were no longer relevant. For JewishChristians, such distinctions remained central to their identity.Matthew's Gospel (the only Gospel where the word 'church' appears)is addressed to the members of just such a Jewish church andconfirms that Torah is still binding. So traditional Jewishsynagogue rules about conflict resolution, for example, stillapply, as does the traditional Jewish belief that 'Gentiles andtax-collectors' were 'unclean' and thus to be avoided.

Verse 18, probably, needs to be understood in this context -whether the church decides to embrace or exclude the offendingchurch member, God will endorse their decision. And verse 19 simplyemphasises the point (although it is often taken out of context asa promise that God will do anything we want, if enough of us askhim - a rather alarming prospect!). First century synagogues, fromwhich Gentiles were excluded and where women were segregated, had aform of democratic self-government, based on applying thecommandments as interpreted by the study of Torah. And Matthew'schurch was essentially a Christian synagogue. Indeed, the familiarphrase "where two or three are gathered in my name..." (oftenquoted in dwindling congregations) is, in fact, based on a familiarJewish 'synagogue saying': "But when two sit together and words ofthe Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests betweenthem". Matthew's Gospel has simply paraphrased it and turned itinto a saying of Jesus.


To Ponder

  • The early Church decided to include Matthew's Gospel in the'canon' of Scripture. How do we decide which bits of teaching for a1st- century Christian synagogue might still be useful forChristians today?
  • Do you agree that the idea that, if enough of us ask, God willdo what we want, is 'a rather alarming prospect'? Why?
  • It's reassuring to think that Jesus could have said "Where twoor three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them".But what might that actually mean?
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