In today’s gospel Matthew deals with an issue that can touch all of us. How are members of the Church to deal with those who sin against us? Matthew recounts a three-step process by which the matter is to be resolved. First, the offended party is to address the offender privately. If that fails to produce reconciliation, two or three witnesses are to be introduced into the process. If no progress is made, then the case should be brought before the entire community.
The graduated process was probably the method that Matthew’s community used to resolve disputes. The purpose of the process was not to punish but to restore the offender to the community: “If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.”
Matthew tells us that if the offender refuses to cooperate even with the decision of the church, he or she should “be to you as a gentile or tax collector.”
Matthew’s community is made up of Jewish—Christians. This statement amounts to a decree of excommunication. In other words, there comes a time when the procedure has run its course and failure must be admitted.
The decree of excommunication stands in some tension with Jesus’ demand for limitless forgiveness within the Church. Although forgiveness is always demanded, an offender is not free to do whatever he or she desires. There are consequences for bad decisions.
Praying with others is so important to Jesus that he attached two promises to it. First, if we join together to ask for anything whatever, it will be give to us. Second, if we gather together in His name, He will be present to us.
Gods answer to our prayer may not remove all our troubles, but it will renew our strength to deal with them. He is always present to us when we pray. What we cannot do alone, we can do together in terms of correction and forgiveness, healing and service, working together and building a community.