Disputes — Matthew 18:15–17

Humility and honesty— part 1

40 blogs of Lent — day 37

We all like to be with people with whom we have things in common. We choose to drink with people with a similar interest or political outlook, and social media does not connect us with a wider range of people but a narrower one. In 2016, people were surprised on both sides by the Brexit vote. People had followed people with similar views and no one expected such a close result. Social media allows us to connect with a larger range of views then ever before, but people are more interested in being with like minded people.

The fallout was bad. Abuse of Brexiteers by Remoaners and vice versa has continued for years. Nobody wants to be the one who wants to be the first to offer to sit around a table with a cup of tea or pint of beer with the other side and start the long journey back to friendship. When cartoonist Dave Walker published the cartoon below in 2018, it was the leave/remain picture which was hardest to take.

A cartoon with the caption Welcome The Stranger in four panels showing:
Members of different religions chatting around a table,
A family with children drinking and eating cake with an old lady,
People with leave and remain banners sharing a meal.
Two men, one with a United scarf and one with a City scarf having a drink together.
Copyright Dave Walker

15 “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. 16 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. 17 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 18:15–17

This is not a rule book. This is not about heavy handedness. This is still about humility.

In working through Matthew’s Gospel I have found it to be meticulously organised, nothing is there by mistake. The gospel is a narrative broken up by the teaching of Jesus. The teachings are organised as follows:

  • Chapters 5-7: Teaching the disciples, the Sermon on the Mount
  • Chapter 10: Teaching the disciples on mission.
  • Chapter 13: Teaching the people in parables.
  • Chapter 18: Teaching the disciples about humility
  • Chapter 23: Teaching the people about the pharisees, and Chapters 24 & 25: Teaching the disciples about Christ’s return.

There is nothing slapdash in Matthew, all is purposefully organised. This is a passage about reconciliation, and like the rest of the chapter it is a very difficult teaching to take. When we have been estranged it is natural to say, “She hurt me, she has to make the first move.” Jesus is here telling the hurt party to make the first move, which goes against all we feel.

Jesus came not only to reconcile people to God, but also to reconcile people with each other. He taught that loving others as you love yourself is equal to loving God. John taught: “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.” (1 John 2:9–10.)

The other person is important, and the most important thing is to be reconciled. It does not matter if we are the hurt party or the one who hurt others. If you were at fault you need to apologise, if you have been hurt people need to treat you gently goes without saying, although people do ignore this and complain that you are too sensitive, but you need to be gentle. Talk to them, buy them a drink, it will not be easy and may tire you out, so get some support, support for your emotional state. We are not trying to prove anyone wrong we are trying to bring someone back.

It takes humility to approach someone like this, and it may not work. We may even end up being hurt again, but this should not stop us. Only when it is clear that the other person refuses to be reconciled do we, quietly and not in public, treat them like a tax collector, to use Jesus’ phrase. Hang on a bit, didn’t Jesus’ disciples contain at least one tax collector? Maybe that isn’t too bad either.


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