The eighteenth chapter of St Matthew’s gospel
deals with issues that divide a community: social
status, titles, disagreements and those that heal:
clearing the air, forgiveness, reconciliation.
Matthew is realistic about people and their reactions.
Our Lord’s words are spoken to
the disciples, and therefore to us who try to
be. What the brother has done wrong is not specified,
but clearly it is something that affects the whole
community, since there is a three-step process.
Have it out with him alone is
based on the Book of Leviticus [19:17]: “You shall
not hate your neighbour in your heart. You shall
reason with your neighbour lest you bear sin because
of him”. The object is to help the sinner recognise
that he has sinned.
The second step, take one or
two others along, is based on the book of Deuteronomy
[19:15]: “Only on the evidence of two witnesses
or of three, shall a charge be sustained”. It
is not clear if they are to be witnesses to the
neighbour’s offense or to his failure to repent.
Probably both. It is the good of the offender
that is at issue here.
The community is the Church.
The only other time Matthew uses the word ‘Church’
is when Jesus said of Peter that he is the rock
on which the Church is built, although in this
case it is the local church. Like a pagan or a
tax collector shows Matthew writing for a Jewish-Christian
audience, since only they would have understood
the attitude involved. The sentence sounds like
excommunication, even though Jesus took time with
both groups mentioned.
Whatever you bind on earth .
. . The power to bind and loose, previously given
to Peter, is now given to the disciples. If two
of you agree to ask anything at all, agreement,
common prayer and the presence of Christ here
have to do with the brother who sins.
“Are there people wretched enough
not to wish to have Christ among them? Yes, we
ourselves are. We drive Christ from among us when
we are hostile to one another. In church we sing
together, we pray together, we listen to the preacher
together. But outside we criticise, we are envious,
jealous, avaricious, sensual, duplicitous . .
--St John Chrysostom
[died 407], a Greek father of the Church: in a
• Do I pray about those who get on my nerves
and for those whom I cannot like?
• I have to forgive because unless I do, bitterness
can enter my very soul. And so, in hurting me,
this person will also have contributed to a
change in my character. Forgiveness is not easy.
Indeed we are told it is a gift of God. Do I
pray for it for myself and for others who need
• How do I take correction? Am I defensive?
Argumentative? Grateful? Thran?
• Would I rather sit and stew in resentment
than confront the one who does something wrong?
Am I better at binding than at loosing? Should
I feel any responsibility towards the sinner?
• Respect, even for the sinner. Is this what
it comes down to?