This text forms part of the fourth of the five discourses in the Gospel of Matthew and is called the community discourse. Matthew is penning down the ethical behaviour for his community and for all Christians.

Sadly, we read scripture for the lines that appeal to our mind set and wilfully read the text out of context. This text has often been seen as some sort of a handbook for resolving matters rather that what it was meant to be; concern for others.

In its context, this text is sandwiched between the parable of the lost sheep and the mandate to forgive seventy times seven. If you’r surrounded by the message of love it’s improbable that the core of your learning turns out to be rotten. This text is cushioned with love. If the shepherd left the ninety-nine sheep in search of the one lost would he bring him back only to put him on trial?

The point of this text in dealing with a sinful brother is not to haul him over the coals but to restore a wounded relationship. Matthew is asking his community to settle matters of dispute by tapping into the resources of the community and not finding solace in some external judicial kangaroo court. However, the disputes taken to the community are not meant to be trivial matters but those grave in nature and that gravity was highlighted by the word ‘sinful’.

A community of believers is not insulated from disagreements. The words of Jesus seem to indicate a hypothetical situation highlighted by the word IF repeated five times in the text. But this hypothetical situation is more than just a hypothesis for we know that sparks fly when people live in community. The lord, mindful of such possible conflicts, wanted them to be addressed, for conflicts that are not addressed only fester.

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