The Power to Care for the Least
does not mean the absence of differences.
In tomorrow's Gospel reading Jesus says,
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.Lutheran pastor Deanna Langle wrote a careful reading of this passage for Christian Century that is worth a look as she notes this passage can be used to keep from holding a Christian leader accountable. She writes,
Matthew 18:15-20 is one of many scripture texts that have been used to harm others. These six verses are not meant to be a declaration of power, nor do these verses mean that if two or three people agree on something, then they can ignore others and do whatever they want. These six verses are about listening and account-ability and about a larger vision of God’s kingdom.Langle sees throughout Jesus' response the common thread of "The kingdom of God is not concerned with 'who’s the greatest,' Jesus teaches; the kingdom of God is about using power to care for the least and most vulnerable." Her full reflection is worth reading. It's online here: A Careful Read
If one looks at these verses in the context of chapter 18, one notices the hyperbole Jesus uses in a series of brief teachings. Some of these teachings we choose to take literally, and some we don’t. For example, we don’t drown others for being "stumbling blocks." And we don’t encourage people to pluck out their eyes or cut off body parts because they’ve sinned. And most shepherds would not abandon 99 sheep to go looking for one sheep. Jesus’ exaggerated response to Peter’s question about forgiveness in verse 21 shows that he knows we want forgiveness to be a quick and simple answer although it’s not.
Labels: Gospel reading