September 3, 2011
23rd Sunday - A
Jesus seems to demand us a lot when "a brother sins against" me. It's the brother who sins to begin with. "It's not my fault." "He did it." Those would be our normal reactions and responses.
Why all these efforts? First, between you and him. If it doesn't work, bring more people in to talk to him. If it still does not work, then tell the church.... All along, Jesus keeps identifying the sinner as "your brother" twice.
Why bother? Why all the troubles?
To understand Jesus' reason, it is probably best to go back a few verses in this Chapter 18 of Matthew (here, the passage for this Sunday begins with verse 15).
First, Jesus teaches his disciples that children are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Thus, woe to anyone who causes one of such little ones to sin. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." (v. 6)
Then, Jesus continues with his teaching of the importance of one's salvation. Using rather drastic images, Jesus stresses that if a part of the body causes one to sin, then it is better to lose that body part than to lose the promise of eternal life (verses 7-11).
Finally, beginning with verse 12, Jesus tells the parable of the man who is willing to leave ninety-nine sheep behind to go searching for just one lost sheep. He then comments, "it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost." (v. 14).
Immediately after that revelation of God's will for the salvation of all humanity, Jesus teaches us what to do "if your brother sins against you."
All the efforts that Jesus asks of us to reconcile with a brother who sins against us are meant to safeguard his and our salvation. God's gift of salvation is so precious that it's worth every effort to preserve it for ourselves and others.
In fact, even if the brother refuses reconciliation, he is not to be rejected. What could Jesus mean when he tells us to treat such a brother "as you would a Gentile or a tax collector?" Remember how Jesus himself treats the Gentiles and tax collectors. Does he ever reject them?