First, the context of the Sunday Gospels of Year A. This passage of Matthew 18: 15 – 20 follows what we heard a week ago from Matthew 16: 21-27. There, Jesus invited anyone who “wishes” to become his disciple “to deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”
And today, Jesus gives a concrete demand of how to put that instruction into practice, namely what to do when others sin against us.
Second, the context of Chapter 18 of Matthew. This passage is preceded by Jesus’ instruction on how to care for “the little ones who believe in [him].” The greatest crime occurs when scandals cause the loss of one of these little ones.
Next comes the parable of the good shepherd who goes searching for the lost sheep. The parable ends with Jesus’ affirmation, “it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.” (v. 14)
And then, in today’s Gospel (verses 15-19) Jesus insists that efforts must be made to keep God’s children in God’s house.
Following this passage, Jesus teaches the seemingly impossible demand of forgiving one’s brother “seventy-seven times” (v. 21-22). Afterwards, Jesus expands on the reason for such a demand – God has forgiven us first to the greatest extent. He teaches this with the parable of a servant whose master forgives him a huge debt, yet he is unforgiving toward a fellow servant who owes him a tiny amount.
Jesus calls his followers to form and follow him carrying the cross to preserve the community of love and forgiveness where two or three are gathered in his name. Such a community witnesses to the presence of God among humanity. In this kind of a community, “There am I in the midst of them” (v. 20)