THE THREE STEPS IN HOW TO LOVINGLY CORRECT ANOTHER PERSON
(A biblical reflection on the 23rd ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 10 September 2017)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:15-20
First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalms: Psalm 95:1-2,6-9; Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10
The Scripture Text
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:15-20 RSV)
We have never found the original manuscripts of the four Gospels, but some very old copies do exist. In our oldest copies of the Gospel according to Matthew, today’s reading is a little different from what we heard proclaimed in Church. In the sentence that talks about what to do if your brother commits some wrong against you, the words “against you” are not there. This indicates that someone other than the original author added these words. How and why did this happen?
Since printing presses and copying machines were not available in the first century, a scribe copied an important document by hand. He would sit down with a quill pen and a scroll of papyrus and copy the document letter by letter. Occasionally, the scribe would make a mistake and leave out a letter or phrase, but sometimes he tried to make a passage clearer by adding his own words. That’s what may have happened with today’s reading: a Christian scribe added the words “against you” to clarify what Jesus said.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus outlines a three-point plan we should follow to lovingly correct a fellow Christian we observe doing something wrong. If, however, the guilty party still refuses to repent, Jesus tells us to treat that person like a Gentile or a tax collector.
A Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish. Many of the Jews did not associate with Gentiles, and some of the rabbis even taught that a Jew travelling through Gentile territory should shake the dirt from his sandals before stepping on Jewish soil so as not contaminate Jewish land.
Tax collectors were even worse than Gentiles. Because the Jews considered God their King, they thought their tax money should be used for the upkeep of God’s house (the Temple). Because the tax collector gave the tax money to the emperor, the Jews believed he was stealing from God. Therefore, the Jews had nothing to do with tax collectors. A Jew who touched a tax collector was ritually unclean and could not offer sacrifices in the Temple.
Treating an errant person like a Gentile or a tax collector is a last resort. The reading clearly stresses that we should give the sinner every opportunity to repent.
(Source: Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 90-91.)
Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray for unity in my Christian communities where I am a member, my family, with my friends, and among all people. Make me an assertive person, Lord, and may the world know that we are Christians by our love for one another. Amen.
Jakarta, 8 September 2017 [Feast of the Birthday of the Blessed Virgin Mary]
A Christian Pilgrim