When our daughter, Jacquelyn, was in middle school, she was in a rehearsal for a play with other classmates and students. The teacher/director had a sign on the gymnasium door that read, “Do Not Disturb. Practice in Session.” She often held the students over the time rehearsal was supposed to be finished. This angered me and I talked to a couple of the other parents about it. These parents were friends of mine. One evening just after the rehearsal ended, I marched up to the teacher. I made a big scene by publicly going up to her and telling her that we parents had other things to do than wait around as she took extra time for the rehearsals. I said this in a loud voice. There were still children around. Later the head mistress of the school demanded that I apologize to the teacher. She threatened to pull me off of the Parent Board if I did not apologize. So I did, even though I still thought the teacher was in the wrong. Months later I realized how embarrassed the teacher must have by my reprimand in front of her students.
We have been having some repair work done on our house. On the first day, one of the workers kept leaving the old wood they were removing with nail points facing up. My father always told me not to do this. I have carried that safety point with me. I turned over a plank without saying anything to the worker but I suspect he saw me do that. Soon he placed another on the ground in the same manner. When I saw it, I urned that one over as well. He soon placed another one with nail points up and I decided to leave it but I did not say anything to him. When his supervisor arrived a little later, I told him that I am concerned about work place safety and wold like it if the workers were more careful about placing wood with nail points down. The crew was present. He apologized and then turned to the crew and said something to them in Ukrainian.
I have often reflected on the first incident and others like it, including the most recent. I see something that goes against my principals and I try to correct it by saying something to the person, in front of others. This not not what Jesus tells us to do in this passage. Instead, we are to go to the person and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. This is the kinder thing to do. In both cases I could have spoken to the other person in private but, subconsciously, wanted to make a show of my righteousness. This may have resulted in a change of ways. Instead, it caused a rift between us.
We all fail every day. We often fail in front of others. We often hurt others through our failures. The two incidents described above are about my failures as much as, if not more than, the other person’s offense. I could just as easily be taken before the assembly. “If such an offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” This seems strange because, elsewhere in the Gospel (perhaps not in Matthew) Jesus teaches that Gentiles and tax collectors are welcomed into the Kingdom, into the church.
I often see and feel others sin against me. But I usually do not have the courage to “go and point out the fault” when we are alone. I often do not take the time to compose myself so that I am not confrontational. I often do not use the formula,”When you do or say X, I feel Y.” This passage carries a heavy burden. If the offender does not follow the “rules” of the church, he can be treated like a Gentile or tax collector. She can be excommunicated. But, in the process, I and the one or two others I take with me and, eventually, the entire church, may find ourselves cast out. This is why reconciliation is done between God (through the confessor) and the one person. This is why I need to take the first step toward reconciliation. I may judge the other wrong but, in the judgment, I carry guilt for not recognizing and proclaiming the infinite divine love and forgiveness that Jesus proclaimed.
“What ever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This passage includes the justification the church has used down through the centuries for “confession” and for excommunication. And history and society have often showed the error in the church’s judgements and actions. This passage ends with the reminder “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” This is not a justification for judging others. It is a reminder to restrain ourselves from judging.
Before I rush to bind, I need to step back and remember that Jesus is among us. I need to be conscious of this. Even if my sister or brother is not conscious of this, by having Jesus with me, I bring him into our meeting. If I step back, if I reflect, if I use the “when you do this, I feel that” formula, if I remember that I am a follower of Jesus, I will see fewer (if any) reasons for me to confront others about their sins against me. I will learn humility about my sins against them.