Lectionary Year A
September 8, 2002
Matthew 18:15-20

Hermeneutical Bridge


The nearest thing this passage has to a "theological center of gravity" is in Jesus' initiating the topic of conversation and supplying the hypothetical situation he raises with guidelines from ancient Jewish standards of appropriate behavior in the face of human sinfulness and response to it. With Jesus' bringing the ancient standard into the New Testament Church, we get a major element in this pericope. His promise of agreed upon requests being provided by God is very close to another major concern in this text. The, still seemingly interruptory, verse 18 gets assigned a minor concern part of this passage. It surely fits better in other places it appears in this Gospel.


15 If a fellow believer sins offends you, go convince him of his error with you, [you and] he alone. If he hears you, you have retained that brother. 16 If however he does not listen to you, take along with you one or two [others], so that by the word of two or three witnesses what is said should stand in all the matter. 17 If he should refuse to listen to you (pl), tell [it] to the community; and then if he refuses to listen to the community, consider him to be as a heathen or a tax collector (an IRS auditor?). 18 Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again truly I say to you that where two come to agreement with you on this earth according to the greatest things that matter whatever you (pl) ask, will be provided by my father (who is) in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I shall be with them.


This passage reminds me that nearly everyone has some conflict that needs resolution. Everyone seems to suffer from someone else's offense and so many have yet to work completely through the turmoil. Too many congregations are riddled with discord. More hide their heads in the proverbial sand and refuse to talk about their differences. Disagreements interrupt friendships. Arguments, antagonism and disharmony invade the atmosphere in offices, homes, and neighborhoods, to say nothing of nations warring against nations, even as we correspond. Upheavals rule our society these days. Jesus suggests a sensible and civil way for the church to deal with difficulties in relationships. Lots of popular Country & Western ballads bewail the pain of failed relationships. Opposing views and/or discordant opinions bring problems to personal associations. Hugh Halverstadt's classical book, regarding Conflicts in the Church, gives similar and far more detailed suggestions for resolutions. Jesus emphasizes the resolution strategy, the solutional system and the cleaning up of the controversy more than the nature of the problem. Here, we "accentuate the positive".

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