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For Your Weekend: The Most Important Thing

Laura Phelps

Dig Deeper into Sunday’s Gospel: Read Matthew 18:15–20

My daughter received an intriguing text from her boyfriend. It read, I am so embarrassed. I have to leave work.” Apparently, his office shares one small bathroom, and when he failed to lift the seat, the boss pulled him aside, gently pointed out his lack of bathroom etiquette, and sent him back into the stall to clean up. The face-to-face humiliation was so intense it was all he could do not to flush himself down the toilet.

After a good laugh, I had to give this boss credit. He did exactly what Jesus tells us to do when someone does something wrong: “Go and tell him his fault between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15). A quick text with a toilet emoji would have been easier. A scribbled note taped to the bathroom door would have been less confrontational. Heck, he could have said absolutely nothing, let the resentment build, and then called a friend to gossip and complain about the guy with a lousy aim.

We prefer that last one, don’t we?

If you open your Bible to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18, verses 15–20, you’ll see that Jesus addresses how we are to confront someone who has done us wrong. It begins with “If your brother sins against you” (Matthew 18:15). It’s important to note that this someone Jesus refers to is not just anyone, but a brother, a fellow believer, a sinner within the community. The instructions are to first pull him aside for private correction, and if he does not repent, grab a couple of friends and try again. If this is unsuccessful, bring the matter to the church community. If the sinner refuses to listen to the correction of the church, Jesus gives us the final instruction, “Then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).

Let’s pause here.

How does that last verse land on your heart?

Do you agree with this teaching, or are you considering joining a less harsh church that lets you do you and serves flavored coffee?

I’d like us to examine why correction in the Church matters and what Jesus means when He says, “Treat him like a Gentile or tax collector.”

Correction matters.
If you’ve spent time in the Word of God, Hebrews 12 might come to mind when reading this passage. “For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). Why does the Lord discipline us, you might ask? 

“He disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10–11).

Correction, when done right, is born out of love. If God didn’t love us, He’d end the pursuit and quit running after us. But this is not the God we meet in Scripture. Our God leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one that strays (Matthew 18:12). Our God keeps His eyes locked on His prodigal son, and when He sees him from a distance, runs to meet him (Luke 15:11–32). His love is a love that chases us down, speaks the truth, and calls out our sins. God’s desire is not to kick the sinner to the curb but to heal him back into the fold.

Father John Bartunek writes, “Jesus’s first priority was bringing people back into communion with God, showing them the Father’s love, and teaching them the way to fullness of life.”[1] He asks that we do the same. We like to think that other people's lives are their business and that it’s our job to stay quiet, but this is not what we read in Scripture. What’s not your business is judging harshly, publicly shaming, putting yourself on a pedestal, or rejecting another. However, as a member of the Christian community, it is your business to go after a fellow member when you see them headed for trouble. Pointing out sinful behavior with great care and humility is doing the Lord’s work, which, for the record, rarely feels easy but is always worth it.

Treat them like a Gentile or tax collector.
Verse 17 is one of many hard biblical sayings that send misguided Catholics into the arms of teachers who suit their liking (2 Timothy 4:3). And understandably so. After all, the Jews did not associate with the Gentiles and considered the tax collector a traitor. Why would Jesus say this? Bishop Barron sheds light on this frequently misunderstood verse:

“This sounds, at first, like a total rejection, but then we recall how Jesus treated the Gentiles and tax collectors—eating with them, pursuing them, drawing them into the circle. There might be a moment of rejection and expulsion in the process of fraternal correction (as we can see, for example, in the Pauline epistles), but it is only provisional and only for the sake of eventual reconciliation.”[2]

What kind of circles do you draw? I’ll confess that drawing people out of the circle rather than into the circle is a temptation I wrestle with. I like my holy huddle. It feels safer to dismiss, unfollow, or ignore the person who challenges me than to reach out, hold them accountable, and invite them to sit at my table. As a broken girl who frequently breaks things, you’d think I’d be quicker to extend the same grace I’ve received and joyfully widen the circle. Perhaps it's my fear of rejection or, more likely, it’s the plank in my eye that keeps me from what Father Bartunek writes, “the most important thing: fidelity to our Christian mission of being another Christ.”[3]

While meditating on this gospel passage, I imagined Matthew sitting down with his parchment, prayerfully recalling this moment with Jesus and writing verse 17, “Let them be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector, and a wave of emotion came over me. Matthew was a tax collector! A tax collector who was dismissed by all but confronted, pursued, and invited by Jesus. This passage is not a green light to pull away from the brother (or sister) who can’t shake sin. Oh, no. This is Matthew saying, “Treat him the way Jesus treated me. Share a meal with him. Spend time getting to know him. Love him. Whatever you do, do not give up on him.”

Thank you, Matthew, for the timely and needed reminder.

Food for thought or journaling…

Who do you see going astray? What holds you back from reaching out? How can you invite them into your circle?

Dear Lord, When I am ashamed to have my sin confronted, wash over me with Your love. When I am afraid to point out my brother’s sin, help me speak the truth in love. And when the temptation to draw people out of my circle enters my heart, remind me of the most important thing. Amen.

[1] John Bartunek, The Better Part: A Christ Centered Resource for Personal Prayer (Avila Institute, 2007), 225.
[2] Bishop Barron, The Word on Fire Bible (Park Ridge, IL: Word on Fire, 2020), 115.
[3] John Bartunek, The Better Part, 225.


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