There Am I
Matthew 18: 15 — 20
It is helpful to recall for a moment what our Lord covered in the earlier part of this training session with his small band of disciples.
In verses 1 — 4 there was the enquiry from the disciples "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" Jesus called over a child and explained that all those who trust and display an unpretentious attitude like that of this child; they are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!
He continued to say that anyone who receives such a person, and honours them, receives and honours him (verse 5). Then in verse 10, as if to drive home a key attitude for his disciples, Jesus makes a very strong statement (verse 10):
Explaining the full impact of this bold statement by Jesus, we have the following scholarly commentary"—
(From Commentary On the Holy Bible, Ed. J. Dummellow,
Then in verses 11 — 14, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep and concludes it with the most emphatic statement:
This early portion of chapter 18 contains critically essential information for us to understand the short discourse on fraternal correction (verses 15 — 20). His preparation has highlighted the value his Father places on each humble person, no matter how unimportant they may be in general society. The people God values are for that reason, "the greatest". When anyone honours them, Jesus adds, they will enjoy his presence also. Be careful, he warns, not to let superior attitudes develop within you, for those humble people are very well connected. Angels of the highest ranks constantly look upon the glory of God.
It is in this context that Jesus now demonstrates how the Church and its members are to continue to uphold this view of the value of each individual person. In doing so they will reflect on earth the very practice and presence of the heavenly court, which he gives his assurance will enfold the faithful in the Holy Shekinah, the Abiding Presence of the Lord God.
Some notes On the Text
Now, extending this same teaching to the day-to-day life of the Church on earth, Jesus declares:
In other words, sort it out between you! This teaching is directly related to Leviticus 19: 17 and 18 which ends with "Love your neighbour as you love yourself." What follows is actually parallelled in the rule of the community of the Essenes at Qumran. Jesus therefore lays this down as the first step of love in the Biblical sense, following the very best Jewish religious practice. Recall that verses 15 — 17 are in the singular, formerly translated, "if thy brother sin against thee." (Although the words "against thee" were not in the original text, they probably help convey Jesus' meaning.)
The emphasis is not on punishment, but on the rescue of a brother (particularly a fellow believer) whose sins put him in danger. This then becomes a practical guide to initiating the Father's love and concern for those who wander or are misled.
Here again there is the common theme of God bringing his loved ones back to himself, back into communion with him; back into his presence.
Our Lord covers the practical possibility that the offender may be slow to respond, and says:
The whole point of multiple testimony is to win the offender over.
Ever the pragmatist, Jesus continues:
Our Lord declares his requirement that every possible means must be employed to win the offender over. Only if he rejects all of these is he to be treated as a non-member, in which case his refusal will lead, sadly, to his own self-exclusion. Jesus calls for frankness and honesty. If he doesn't co-operate, don't keep up any pretence. He's out!
Some commentators disagree as to whether this declaration was to be applied to the Church at large or just to a specific local congregation. We consider the Jerome Commentary to be most consistent in its explanation:
Verse 19 and 20
The session is rounded off by Jesus, true to his style, with a beautiful reminder of the central truth in his teaching that the Church in action, faithfully carrying out his commands, will enjoy the fullest possible communion with the courts of Heaven. His teaching is well grounded: he draws on rabbinic teaching based on Psalm 82: 1 and Malachi 3: 16.
Rabbi Samuel Tobias Lachs in his "Rabbinic Commentary On the New Testament" )Ktav Publishing House, New Jersey, 1987) writes, of verses 19 and 20:
To sum up the points made in the final section of our Lord's discourse we list the following"
This text of Mt 18: 15 — 20 is normally referred to in one way or another as dealing with fraternal correction; and of course it does. We have placed it in its wider setting and focused on the presence of God-with-us, our Emmanuel. The passage is about restoring unity among one another so that our collective unity with God is both strengthened and manifested to the world.
A Final Thought
If this is such an important theme in our Lord's teaching with regard to individuals, must it not be equally pressing that his Body the Church likewise be restored. For 500 Years it has been disintegrating with increasing momentum. Today it is looked on as weak and sickly and inflicted with self-administered poison. Despite the collapse on many fronts, there are so-called Christians who care little for trying to address this. Publicly they continue to run down certain selected Churches at every opportunity, and project such attitudes out into their mission fields. In the mind of Jesus, this is in direct opposition to his Gospel teaching, which it can only mean, they have never even begun to understand. This is a very serious situation. If we believe what Jesus taught in this passage, then we must play a part in reversing the tragic dismantling of the Body of Christ.
We can, by truly listening to Jesus in these Gospel reflections, restore mutual respect among different Christian's traditions. Unless we do so, the world about us will continue to abandon Christian culture and allow atheistic and materialistic "values" to flood the vacuum we perpetuate.
If we can take the intended teaching of Jesus in this short passage, and apply it carefully to our fractured situation, the Church could again be seen for what it is meant to be, the presence of God and his rule on earth, and thus become a blessing to the whole world.
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