Matthew 18:15–20

Matthew 18:15–20
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (18:20)

From time to time, when I am preparing my sermon, I come upon ‘Lectionary Readings’ which I admit are very challenging. This is one of those readings. I am not sure what is bothering me considering that I have read and talked about this passage when I was in Fiji some 30 years ago. Virginia and I attended the Dudley Methodist Church in Suva which had a large Fiji Indian congregation. Preachers loved to quote verse 20 whenever they prayed, whether it was the Sunday service or a prayer meeting in someone’s home. Then, what bugs me about this passage in Matthew 18? Maybe, I have known too many Christians who point out faults among other Christians? Perhaps, I do not understand the reference to ‘Gentiles’ and tax collectors considering Matthew himself was a tax collector and Jesus’ encounter with Zaccheus? Perhaps, I still have not accepted the fact the people in the church communities do have conflicts and they need to be resolved for the sake of the communities?

Regardless of my questions and dilemmas, I can’t think of a better passage to share my thoughts with you. I do realise that in any community there are going to be differences and difficulties. Sometimes, these differences are minor and brought about by personality clashes. Sometimes, they are more serious and are brought about by someone acting against the interests of the community. Jesus is setting out some of the rules for the church communities as he knows that human beings will have conflict.

This passage provides the ground rules for resolving conflicts among church members. Real churches have, or should have real conflicts. These arise from individual human faults and failings that need to be confronted for the sake of the well-being of the community. And, partly these arise from good people simply disagreeing about exactly what following Jesus requires of them in their particular context.

The only real harm that will come to a church community is to refuse to deal with conflicts. Conflicts do not kill churches. Refusing to deal with conflict kills churches. And, in fact, Jesus knew this and gives specific instructions for dealing with conflict and offensive behaviour, including telling members to leave as a last resort.

Jesus closes with the words that offer comfort and strength, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” This is not a random meeting of a few Christians together, but a gathering of people who have come together in a unity of heart and of purpose. The Kingdom is a place of openness, trust and honesty where differences can be aired and forgiveness is given and received. This is because love underpins everything, a love which, at its best, resembles that of Jesus himself, complete and unconditional.

Blessings, Raymond Surujpal