If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 18:15-17 – June 21, 2012)
This is Jesus at his organizational problem solving best. Some really good advice about settling internal church conflict: talk it out. Talk it out individually; if that doesn’t work, talk it out with a couple of other people; if that doesn’t work, talk it out in the larger community. And if that doesn’t work . . . here’s where I believe people misunderstand Jesus. ~ The last instruction is that if the obstreporous member remains unmoved, let him or her “be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.” This is usually read to mean that we should ostracize or excommunicate the offending member. But I think this may be a misreading! ~ The word here translated as “Gentile” is “ethnikos“, a derivate of “ethnos“. This is the very word Jesus uses in the Great Commission: “Porenthente oun mathetensate panta ta ethne . . . ” – Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. ~ And tax collectors? Jesus sat down to dinner with them (Matthew 9). Jesus said they would get into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and the elders of the people (Matthew 21). Jesus praised the tax collectors for believing John the Baptist (Matthew 21). He called Matthew the tax collector to be one of his central party. ~ So how are we to treat “a Gentile and a tax-collector”? By shunning . . . or by dining with them? By excommunication . . . or by calling them to closer communion with God in Christ?