Inspired by Matthew 18:15-20
Maybe it’s just me but, it seems like it is becoming more and more common for people to correct other people, about anything: saying the wrong thing, supporting the wrong cause, having the wrong belief, eating the wrong food, shopping at the wrong place, whatever people want to correct you on, it just seems like it’s a free for all these days! And then sometimes I think, maybe it’s always been that way and I just didn’t notice. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and have less patience these days. Maybe it’s the internet’s fault! Oh lord, two days after my birthday and I’m complaining about the internet! Is this how it begins—the road to crabby old man?
Seriously though, I really do think the internet has played a part in this. And I’m not alone, many scholars much smarter than I have written about this. The internet has brought with it a false sense of anonymity. And with that false sense of anonymity, comes a growing ease in correcting other people online, typically on social media. One of my biggest pet peeves is when people feel it necessary to correct my spelling or grammar. I had one person tell me, I can’t help it I used to be a teacher. I said, OK, and I dropped out of her class, which means I hit that unfriend button. I know, that sounds harsh, but to be fair I do give people a warning, sometimes two depending on how benevolent I’m feeling that day.
But it really does seem like this growing ease with correcting people is bleeding over into the physical world as well. At the conference that I went to last month in Atlanta, it was a conference just for pastors and deacons, I know, I must be glutton for punishment, but I’m sitting in one of the sessions and this pastor sitting next to me is correcting the speaker or adding information that he felt should have been said by the speaker. And he’s doing this out loud! On what planet is that acceptable behavior? He wasn’t speaking to anyone in particular, just to anyone who was stupid enough to listen to him instead of the speaker, ie me.
Ok. Rant over. My point is, we live in a world where at any given time you could be corrected about any number of things—and Jesus seems to know that in this great passage from Matthew this morning. It’s one of those passages that makes you think, this should be required reading for all Christians. I mean, the Bible is pretty big right? We can’t expect people to remember the whole thing! So if there was a list of passages that summed up some of the most essential teachings of the Bible, this passage should most certainly be on that list! Trouble is, I think we use this passage incorrectly many times. See! Here I go about to correct us on our use of this passage! You can’t even escape being corrected at church! Someone should talk to your pastor about that!
Here’s the thing, this passage seems to provide a very clear formula for conflict resolution. Someone does you wrong, go directly to them. If that doesn’t work, bring a friend along. If that doesn’t work, involve your church family. If that doesn’t work, well, to hell with them. Literally! Jesus says to treat them as they would a Gentile or tax collector, people that they traditionally saw as unfit for the kingdom. Now, like I said, all of that seems to fit into this nice neat little formula for conflict resolution. Cut and dry, no questions asked. But, I don’t think it’s that simple. Do I wish this formula were used more by us. Yes, of course, but as long as we use it in the context of the entire passage. Because, though this is great for conflict resolution, I don’t think that was the point Jesus was trying to make.
Jesus merely uses this formula to get to the whole point of this lesson which comes in that last verse, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.” As the reader, we’re supposed to be like, “Oh…wait…what? You’re going to be there too Jesus? That was not part of the formula you just gave us! You said that if someone does you wrong, go directly to them. If that doesn’t work, bring a friend along. If that doesn’t work, involve our church family.
If that doesn’t work, then, to hell with them. You didn’t say anything about you showing up! We were fine with the formula as is! You know what Jesus, you’re a busy person. You have billions of people to tend to, what with the whole God on earth, Emmanuel thing. No need to change the formula on our account. We’ll take it from here. You just go do, whatever it is that you do. We got this.”
I imagine Jesus just shaking his head and sighing. Because the whole point of this formula, the whole point of conflict resolution, the whole point of living together as a community of the body of Christ is for Jesus to be with us—whether we want Jesus there or not, as he reminds us in this passage. He didn’t say, when two or three invite me. No, when two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them. Trouble is, we don’t always want him there.
Think of it this way. Remember when you were a kid, and you got into a fight with a sibling or a cousin, or a friend? All one of you had to do was say, I’m gonna go get my mom. Now the one who said that was usually the more injured party right? And what would the other say? “No, no, no, wait, just wait a sec. Let’s not be hasty. We can settle this without getting the boss involved.”
Because when the boss is involved, all of sudden the accountability factor goes through the roof right! When the boss is involved you gotta mind your p’s and q’s. When the boss is involved you do things by the book, no pun intended. When the boss is involved you settle things a little more fairly, you are reminded of all the other lessons that the boss has taught you, and when Jesus is the boss, you remember lessons about love, compassion, love, justice, love, sacrifice. Did I mention love? And remember, Jesus doesn’t need an invitation. Jesus just shows up! And it might do us a world of good to acknowledge his presence more than we do.
|Image by David Hayward, nakedpastor.com|
Can we think bigger? When trying to decide how we can make sure all means all when we say we welcome all? Might be a good idea to acknowledge that Jesus is in that conversation. When trying to decide how we can best serve those whom Jesus urged us to serve: immigrants, poor families, homeless veterans, children and youth, the aging, the LGBTQ community. Might be a good idea to acknowledge Jesus’ presence in those decisions. Can we think even bigger than that? Whether we can or cannot, Jesus’ promise to be present remains. Whether we want him there or not. Thanks be to God. Amen.