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Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Epiphany: Matthew 18: 15-17

I'm doing one of those "read the bible in a year" plans on youversion (great app by the way), and I'm currently reading the book of Matthew. I came across the verse about sin in the church. You know the one. The verse that churches have used to shun perceived sinners in the church, and to kick them out of their lives, effectively ruining Jesus for them forever?

I'd read this verse before, as I'm sure you probably have as well, and it always struck me as odd. Why would God tell us to shun people who sin? It sounds so unlike him. But this time, as I read, I realized something. Something that had been staring me in the face this whole time.

Here is the whole section of scripture. Take a moment and read it, just to refresh your memory. 

“If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that ‘every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or more witnesses,’ as the scripture says. And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector." -Matthew 18:15-17

Now, let's take a look at that last verse, the one that causes the most trouble. "Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector." Notice the specific people there, and think to yourself about them. How were they treated by Jesus?

Well, here is your answer for the tax collectors:

  • He ate with them, which was considered a very intimate thing at this time, and he had conversations with them. ("Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples." - Matthew 9:10)
  • He called them to be his disciples, even while they were still working in a job that was considered to be horrible in that time.  ("As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him." -Matthew 9:9)
  • He also took time out of ministering the masses to love them specifically (see the story of Zacchaeus). 

In short, he loved them, and treated them like people, and with respect. He may not have supported their actions at all times, but he did love them the same as those who were his disciples. 

Well, how about the Pagans?
  • He calls us to go and minister to them (which would include loving them, and talking to them often). ("Go, then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit," -Matthew 28:19)

And all throughout the rest of the New Testament, we see the disciples go on to seek out pagans specifically, and to love them and minister to them.

All of this contradicts the view of shunning a "non-believer" or "sinner" within the church. As you can probably now tell, this verse is actually calling for something completely different. It does call for a somewhat different treatment of the offending person than they had before, you obviously treat, and talk with, a non-believer differently than you do someone who has been a Christian for years, but it does not call for a shunning, or a shaming, or anything else of that sort. It calls instead for you love them, and love them fiercely, with the love of Christ Jesus. Because what better way is there to treat someone, and show them the face of god, than to love them just like Jesus loves them; unconditionally.

So that's the little epiphany I had when reading this passage, and I hope that it encouraged you and made you re-examine this scripture. It certainly impacted me.

Blessings,
Kathryn

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