Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Our Gospel reading from Matthew 18:1-20 seems to have two big ideas in it. Yet they are closely related to one another. First, Jesus talks about “little ones” and how he doesn’t want any of them to perish. Jesus cares for children as a shepherd cares for sheep. He wants them to be safe. He protects them from wandering. He chases them when they try to run into danger. This is great news! God cares about little children who can’t care for themselves. He surely cares about you and me as well.
How does this relate to the later portion of the passage? Here, if someone sins against you, you confront the person about the sin. You do it directly, talking with that person, not with someone else. If the other person is not sorry, you go with some others. If that still doesn’t work, you bring it before the church. If all else fails, the person is treated as an unbeliever.
Do we see that many of the ways people sin against us are essentially childish? They are thoughtless, sometimes done in actual ignorance. Why was that person rude to me? Didn’t he know I was having a difficult day? Well, in fact, he probably didn’t until after you popped your cork. Why are all those people driving so slowly? Don’t they care that I need to go somewhere? In fact, they are all going somewhere themselves.
Most of the time, when someone offends us, we simply need to ignore it and get over it. It may have been unintentional, it may have been thoughtless, it may have been on purpose but not worth an encounter. Let the fool be a fool.
What about the offenses that are serious? We aren’t able to overlook them? We think they may be binding the other person in his or her relationship with God? We need to confront sin. As we saw in Ezekiel earlier this week, that sin of our neighbor is going to hurt our neighbor. As Jesus cares for the children who could hurt themselves, we also care for our neighbors who are endangering themselves. So we go to them. What’s our desire? We want them to lay down their sin, to ask Jesus for forgiveness, and, hopefully, to stop sinning in that way. Would we like them to ask our forgiveness also? Yes, no doubt. But our concern is for our neighbor.
The process continues, with more people involved. Actually, we hope it doesn’t continue. We hope it will be taken care of immediately and go no farther. But sometimes that doesn’t happen. The eventual outcome is that a person could be treated as an unbeliever. What does this imply? It means that we relieve the person of responsibility to lead others. Instead, we pray for the person, we love the person, we invite the person to hear and believe God’s Word. We consider this a person for whom Jesus died, whose soul is in danger due to sin. We ask the Lord to have mercy.
Jesus loves people in this world. Little people, big people, tenderhearted people, even stubborn people. He calls them all to his side to live in his forgiveness and grace. He calls them all to believe his words of redemption.
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