Our scripture this week is Matthew 18:15-20.
If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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. 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.
Jesus has led us through progressively wider steps for restoring relationships in this lesson. He gives one last instruction for the process, saying “if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”. That sounds like a hard break in the connection between the offender and the church, but I don’t believe that’s what Jesus had in mind at all.
During this process the offender has been approached with Christ’s love as a member of His body. If they refuse to see their error because of His love , we must treat them as one who doesn’t know Christ’s love – the tax collectors and Gentiles of that time. It is a double lesson to us that this statement appears in Matthew’s gospel, who was a tax collector when Jesus called him to be a disciple.
Jesus calls us not to shun them but to invite them (back) into the fellowship of believers through our love and acceptance. His love is not limited, and we are to love without limits as well. When someone places themselves outside the body of faith through their actions, it is only through love that they may be rescued.
Loving Lord, we are a people who say we love justice, but we often forget the love that must go with it, seeking to punish offenders as we think they deserve. Help us remember we are all offenders under Your law and the mercy we seek must also be the mercy we offer others. Amen.