Structured and Tight, but Open

“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 charge may be established 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."

Matthew 18:15-20

September 12, 2023, Words By: Esau Oreso, Image By: Blakely Dadson

Made Flesh

Both my parents worked away from home all throughout my childhood years. As the eldest child, I was entrusted with the responsibility of looking after my siblings, which included ensuring they were fed.

My mother bought a flask and would put porridge or tea in it so we could eat or drink whenever we were hungry. Many of the flasks inevitably broke as my siblings wrestled with the stubbornly tight lids, which became increasingly challenging to open once sealed. So, my brother and I decided to jam the lid’s thread so it would only loosely close.

Even with multiple rotations to tighten the lid, it would, by default, slide back to lose mode, thereby allowing my siblings to access the drinks whenever they needed them. It worked perfectly well. The flask’s lid was closed enough to protect the contents but loose enough to easily open when one of the little ones needed to do so.

In this week’s text, Jesus is providing some practical steps to peaceably resolve conflicts, reconcile with others, and restore those who have fallen out. Interestingly, the text is located between the story of a lost sheep and a call to forgiving multiple times “without end” (vs 22). The scandalized and lost sheep, also referred to as “the little ones,” will need forgiveness without end.

In the text, Jesus has identified three steps in seeking to reconcile people who are in conflict. The first, he says, is to go alone and talk to the person privately. The purpose is to seek to correct the person without exerting more pain and humiliation.

The second, is to take someone with — to address the conflict in the presence of one or two witnesses in order to align with the Mosaic requirement (Deuteronomy 19:15). The purpose for this is to open up the issues to a few more people and get their attention and wisdom to the matter.

The third, is to expand the audience and take the person to the church leadership to look into the problem and find a solution. The purpose is to invite institutional and communal authority and insight into the matter.

And finally, we are told to “treat the person as a Gentile and tax collector.”

This last step is interesting because, whereas among the Jewish people of that day the tax collectors and Gentiles were generally considered unclean, it is unlikely that in this text Jesus meant to equate and brand the people in conflict from our text as Gentiles and tax collectors who are outsiders and irredeemably lost, although some in Jesus’ audience might have interpreted it that way (Luke 18: 11, John 4: 1ff).

Instead, Jesus practically demonstrated being a friend of Gentiles and tax collectors whom he never spoke of as irredeemable outsiders, but always displayed greater sympathy and love towards (Matthew 9: 9-11; 11:19, Luke 18:10-14).

In the following verses, Peter asks how many times one must forgive. Jesus responds that it must be seventy times seven. The implication being that the Gentiles and tax collectors have more chances of finding true forgiveness and reconciliation.

In a world full of conflicts and violence, Jesus is cognizant of the reality of seemingly irreconcilable differences, but leaves room for a hopeful future with multiple opportunities for forgiveness and reconciliation. The seemingly irreconcilable differences should not take away our great love for one another but bring about an attitude of humility and repentance. A call to a forgiving and reconciling community requires that we love well, and be civil in dealing with those who offend us, as God does his work in the background.

Just like my flask’s lid was always rotating but never tightening to close, our relationships must continually and freely seek forgiveness and reconciliation, even when there is seemingly no solution in sight. And like the disciples (Luke 17:5), we will continue to ask the Lord Jesus to increase our faith. Jesus demonstrates that with the inexhaustible grace of God, the structured and tight steps should lead to wide openings of reconciliation.

Dwelling Among Us

How might our understanding of God’s grace (steps to forgiveness and reconciliation) impact the way we treat each other in situations of conflict?

How open are we towards those we have branded as “others” due to our privileged or tagged identities?

About The Author

Esau Oreso