‘Gospel Gestapo’? Wednesday, 19th week in ordinary time- Matthew 18: 15- 20
Chapter eighteen of the Gospel of Matthew, is the fourth of the five great discourses found in the Gospel. This discourse is addressed to Peter and other leading disciples and covers community relations. It is for this reason that this discourse is called the community discourse or the discourse on ethics. It gives rules for God’s household until the kingdom comes and also covers relations with outsiders. ( JBC)
The Gospel of today covers three pericopes, bound as one. It begins with the three stage procedure for trials for disciplining a recalcitrant brother (15-17) then elucidates the divine backing for these judicial decisions (18-20) and ends with divine assurance of Jesus’ presence.
Unfortunately, this chapter is often misunderstood as a hand book for resolving conflicts and by extension this pericope is certainly not a step by step procedure for the trial of an errant brother. One needs to always place the teachings of Jesus within its context. The wider context of the pericope is, living in the kingdom of God; the immediate context is drawn from the parable of the lost sheep which precedes this text.
If the shepherd goes over hill and valley to find the one lost, would he so glibly find a three step methodology to excommunicate another brother? The procedure for dealing with a ‘sinful’ brother was not designed to execute a time tested methodology to mete out justice; on the contrary it was designed to win him over.
The point of this pericope is to get off our high horse and privately talk to our errant brother before we bring in the cavalry. The idea is not to win an argument but to win a brother. Perhaps this private talk will resolve things; if not, then a few more members may be involved and finally the community may step in. Let us not forget that in all of this, Christ too is part of the judgment, for where two or three gather in His name, there He is.
Therefore the pericope must be seen as it was meant to be, a methodology of fraternal correction reinforced between parables of care (the lost sheep) and forgiveness (the parable of the unforgiving servant). The rule book cannot be the norm when you are surrounded by love. In all of this, the role of the Church leader is pivotal. He is not in charge of the ‘gospel gestapo’; if anything, he enforces the love of Christ.
Fr Warner Dsouza
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