Matthew 18:15-20

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

This is a story about the tension between the way of forgiveness and the need for justice. Elements of this tension are dealing with conflicts, church discipline, and managing the community in ways that maintain peace. The tension is around how to deal with problem people. Every community has them; sin happens in every community. In this discourse Jesus makes clear recommendations about how to deal with wrong-doing.

The structure of the discourse outlines a process for dealing with an individual who has “done you wrong”: talking with that person one-on-one; talking with that person with one or two others; talking with that person with the congregation. Each stage of the process is described with the same phrases. These verbal threads are: “listens” and “not listened”;  “if the member refuses to listen” and “if the offender refuses to listen”; “the evidence of two or three witnesses” and “where two or three are gathered in my name.” These are all helpful in learning the story.

The recommendation of this discourse is to go to the limit in order to be reconciled. Jesus describes a process of conflict resolution that pushes the limits of what most communities will do. It stands in contrast to the way that problems are usually dealt with in communities: rumor and the building up of resentment—people talking to each other about something that has been done and never talking to the offender. 

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