Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
18:15 Your brother: a fellow disciple; see Mt 23:8. The bracketed words, against you, are widely attested but they are not in the important codices Sinaiticus and Vaticanus or in some other textual witnesses. Their omission broadens the type of sin in question. Won over: literally, “gained.”
18:16 Cf. Dt 19:15.
18:17 The church: the second of the only two instances of this word in the gospels; see note on Mt 16:18. Here it refers not to the entire church of Jesus, as in Mt 16:18, but to the local congregation. Treat him … a Gentile or a tax collector: just as the observant Jew avoided the company of Gentiles and tax collectors, so must the congregation of Christian disciples separate itself from the arrogantly sinful member who refuses to repent even when convicted of his sin by the whole church. Such a one is to be set outside the fellowship of the community. The harsh language about Gentile and tax collector probably reflects a stage of the Matthean church when it was principally composed of Jewish Christians. That time had long since passed, but the principle of exclusion for such a sinner remained. Paul makes a similar demand for excommunication in 1 Cor 5:1–13.
18:18 Except for the plural of the verbs bind and loose, this verse is practically identical with Mt 16:19b and many scholars understand it as granting to all the disciples what was previously given to Peter alone.
18:19–20 Some take these verses as applying to prayer on the occasion of the church’s gathering to deal with the sinner of Mt 18:17. Unless an a fortiori argument is supposed, this seems unlikely. God’s answer to the prayer of two or three envisages a different situation from one that involves the entire congregation. In addition, the object of this prayer is expressed in most general terms as anything for which they are to pray.
18:20 For where two or three … midst of them: the presence of Jesus guarantees the efficacy of the prayer. This saying is similar to one attributed to a rabbi executed in a.d. 135 at the time of the second Jewish revolt: “… When two sit and there are between them the words of the Torah, the divine presence (Shekinah) rests upon them” (Pirqê ’Abôt 3:3).
Friends, in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us to speak directly to a person who has offended us. I know it is exceptionally difficult, but going to the person directly is both productive and spiritually up-lifting. It has at least a fighting chance of accomplishing something, and it confirms you in love.
Suppose the person blows you off, even lashes out at you. You are then encouraged to bring “one or two others” into the conversation. Perhaps the person will see the point and get over his defensiveness.
Now suppose he doesn’t listen even to this group? Then tell your church. Today, we might say the pastor and his team or perhaps some of the leading families in the parish. Suppose he doesn’t listen even to the church? Then the Lord recommends ongoing compassion and prayer: “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” But remember how Jesus relates in love to Gentiles and tax collectors. Finally, the wonderful word on prayer: “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” Pray together with one or two others for the conversion of a sinner.
– Bishop Robert Barron