A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
Jesus said to His disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.”
He didn’t say “If your brother has a fault, go and tell him his fault.” A lot of people miss that. This isn’t a set of instructions on how to point out other people’s faults. This is a set of instructions for what you ought to do if someone sins against YOU. If what someone is doing isn’t hurting anyone, it’s none of your business. But if someone is hurting you, what should you do? First, try the tactful way, just talking to them personally. If that doesn’t work, bring a witness to defend you. If that doesn’t work, go to the Church and the Church will defend you. That’s how Jesus would like it to work.
I wonder if it ever has. But that’s the idea. Try to resolve it quietly if that’s possible, but often it’s not. If it’s not, get help from a friend or two, and your friends will take your side and protect you– or at least, that’s what God wants them to do. If they don’t, or of that doesn’t work, go to the Church and the Church will shield you– or the Church would, if the Church were acting rightly. If not even the Church can help, then treat the one who was once your brother like a Gentile or a tax collector.
Of course, Christians are supposed to treat Gentiles and tax collectors with the greatest love and respect. Respect is not optional. Respect is owed to humans, no matter how they behave. But if someone is hurting you and won’t stop, you don’t have to treat them like family. Jesus does not expect that of you. You can let them go.
You are supposed to let them go.
I wonder what Jesus would make of the Church.
He must have known how His words would be misused. The God Who knows everything must have seen that if he said “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault” would somehow get construed as “if your brother is sinning, or if you think he might be, go and tell him his fault.” He must have known that if he said “take one or two others with you” would somehow get turned into “go and gossip about the one who sins differently than you do to make yourself look righteous.” He surely foresaw that “tell the church” would someday be taken to mean “rat on your brother to the pastor so the pastor can ruin him.” But he said it anyway, hoping that someone would hear the truth.
He must have foreseen the people who would go to their friends and then to the Church for help when they were being sinned against, only to be told “offer it up like Saint Monica” or “don’t calumniate a priest” or “what did you do to lead him on?” or “stop sowing discord.”
He must have known that people would go to the Church for refuge, and the Church herself would destroy those people, and when the people cried out for help, the Church would treat them like a Gentile or a tax collector and worse. There would be no love or respect; only shunning. Only giving up in despair, and deciding Christ never wanted you, and walking away.
He must have known that many would walk away.
I wonder how many multitudes of people have gone to the Church for refuge, and been driven away.
Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on Earth will be loosed in Heaven. Someday, the Church will find herself in Heaven face to face with all the people they bound and loosed: all the people they left chained in terrible straits because they wouldn’t help them, and all the people they shunned and let loose into the world. Because Christ was present in those people, and the Church failed them. And in Heaven those people will be bound together as one family, and loosed from every chain the Church forced onto them.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them. For if you agree to go and protect your brother or sister against the one who is sinning against them, you are doing what Christ would do, and Christ will go with you. For if a whole group of people gathers to protect the helpless, they are following God’s command, and they have become the Church.
The gathering of people who do the will of Christ is the Church.
The people who will not do the will of Christ are not the Church, no matter what they might tell you. No matter how much they look like a church, they are not. Treat them like a Gentile or a tax collector. Walk away, and Christ will walk with you.
Whoever has ears, let him hear.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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