In Matthew’s Gospel today we hear about steps to take in order to resolve a dispute within a church community. If there is a dispute with someone, keep it between the two of you, if that fails then bring in another one or two members to help. If that also fails, bring it to the whole church community. What this step by step movement toward resolution is seeking is peace. It seeks peace and a renewed bond between the parties who are in a disagreement, first with one another, then with some help from more members, and finally with the help of the whole body.
Within the early church, there were certainly different factions and people with varying experiences of the new Christian Church as well as varying experiences of each other. These folks had a variety of languages, a variety of culture and history, as well as a variety of ideas and stories about the historical Jesus and his early followers. Therefore, it is not surprising that there would be conflicts and dust-ups in the church with so many differing factions. They were enthusiastic and fueled by the words of those who were there with Jesus. They were fueled by the courage and persistence of the disciples who came before them. But they came from differing backgrounds and brought a variety of ideas and hopes into the midst of the new church.
So, today’s Gospel explains one of the methods which could be used to resolve these conflicts.
At the end of the reading is a rather harsh comment regarding these conflicts. Treat the one as you would treat a tax collector” and then “what you hold bound is bound, what you loose is loosed.” These comments are some of the statements that serve as an early rationale for the idea of ex-communication or sending someone away from the other believers.
One interesting and encouraging thing about this week’s reading is the sequence of them. Sometimes when we read and examine Scripture, there are some fascinating answers hidden in plain sight and not necessarily sequentially. In Paul’s letter to the Romans I think there is a solution to the issues that seem to be tearing at the members in Matthew’s Gospel.
The reading from Romans begins with the word “owe” and is referring to the debt we, as believers is Jesus Christ owe one another and what we owe each other is love. Love period.
“The teaching of this passage is that there is really only one commandment that is universal and covers every situation and to which we are always obligated-the commandment of love. The separate commandments of the Decalogue are to be seen as specification or illustrations of what love may mean in particular situations.” according to Reginald Fuller who was an Anglican priest, theologian, and ecumenist.
As we travel through our lives and move through relationships, schools, careers, and other obligations we encounter numerous situations, opinions, rules, laws, and norms. Of course, we come upon differing viewpoints and opinions. We all struggle through disagreements and conflicts at least once or twice in our days. So, what are the rules of engagement? How do we answer the primary question of human morality and ethics? Who are we to be? What are we to do? In our second reading today the answer is clear, as it is in so many other texts within Scripture. We are to love one another, first and then figure out the rest of the business after that, keeping in mind that this is the first, the one, the primary commandment, the “New Commandment” that Christ himself delivered personally to us through his life, passion, death, and resurrection. We are to love one another first, that is the law, those are the directions, it is the prescription for everything that ails us. Love one another, through it all, no matter what, love one another. It is patient, it is kind, it does not boast, it is not envious, it rejoices in the truth, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, in the end, it is the greatest of the three things that last, faith, hope, and love.