Signpost for Sunday 7 September 2014: Exod 12:1-14; Ps 149; Rom 13:8-14; Matt 18:15-20
Let’s pass over the Passover this week if you don’t mind. Instead it’s Matthew whose words caught my eye.
At first glance this seems like a ‘how to’ text in dealing with naughty people in church. Sadly it’s not the ones who forget to turn off their cell phones that some churches take this to be a set of rules about. And one danger here is that the word sin comes into play. Are we supposed to bail up a ‘sinner’ and tell him (or her) his (or her) fault? Then drag that person in front of a couple of members of the vestry if that doesn’t work? And when that doesn’t work boot them out?
Of course not. Matthew 15:1 sets the scene quite clearly – this is about you or me having a problem with another person. I don’t think about sin at all, it’s about grievance. And it’s a very good way of dealing with conflict – go and talk to the person face to face. Don’t complain about them to another person, don’t send an email cc’d to your manager, and certainly don’t text someone you’re annoyed with.
In other words, grow up. Behave like a reasonable and responsible adult, not a whiney little kid. Obviously then in Matt 18:3-4, and contrary to what some people might think, Jesus never suggested we behave like children.
But what is all this about witnesses and people being gathered in twos and threes? Well, that’s the Jewish way of doing things and had been for thousands of years – Jewish law required two or three witness to uphold a complaint (Deut 19:15).
That also sheds a light on Matt 18:20 and here’s another historical perspective: After 70 AD one of the things that concerned Jewish society was where and how God’s presence could be encountered, and his will discerned, now that the temple was destroyed. Matthew is quite clearly suggesting that Jesus (Matt 28:20) has replaced the Temple.
The idea of two or three being gathered together wasn’t new either. The Jews believed that whenever even a few Hebrews discussed the Torah amongst themselves, the shekinah – the divine presence – was with them. In Matthew, the “two or three” are not gathered around the Torah, but around Christ – gathered “in my name.” The Torah and the shekinah are replaced with Christ himself – “I am in the midst of them.”