Matthew 18:15-20 Community, gossip and heaven

Pentecost 16, Proper 18 year A

Matthew 18:15-20

Questions, for a group study: (take them in any order, and don’t feel obliged to answer them all)
1. What sort of community do you live in? Is it small enough for people to know one another, and know about one another, or is it larger and impersonal? Have you lived in different sized communities? Which do you prefer and why? What sort of congregation are you part of? Do people know one another well, or are there people moving through quickly, or do you not talk to one another much? What do you think a congregation should be like?
2. What happens when a member of your congregation does something wrong? Do other Christians help them or hinder them in getting things right again? If you needed advice or support, would you go to a member of the congregation, or someone outside?
3. v15-17 offer a pattern of guidance and discipline. Have you ever experienced anything like this? Do you think it would work – how, and with what problems?
4. Read v18-20 and discuss what you think they mean. v20 is often quoted, and rightly so. v18 seems to suggest that the local congregation can make decisions about conduct which bind its members – how do you feel about this?

When you have had your discussion, don’t try and put everything into the dialogue sketch you produce – go for the things you found interesting, helpful, or encouraging. Don’t forget that your minister/priest/leaders may want to read through the script before you read it in worship.

If you want a ready-made sketch to adapt or perform, or just to view as an example, then try this (and see how it comes out of the questions above)

Sketch for 3 voices, A, B and C.

A. That reading sounds like the script for an edition of “Neighbours from Hell”! People sticking their noses into your private business left right and centre! Count me out.

B. I’m not so sure. When I lived in a village, there was a lot more community feeling. People didn’t easily get left out or forgotten. Of course everybody knew everybody else, and, yes, they did know all about you – how you got on with your relations, how much you earned, how often you got drunk. But since everybody knew, it didn’t matter so much.

C. I can never decide about “Community”. Sometimes it sounds wonderful to live close to the people around you – a second family to depend on in difficult times, to watch out for children and the elderly. It would be great to be able to party together in good times, and close ranks when there were problems to face together. But you’ve only got to watch some of the TV soaps to realise how it can all go wrong!

A. So perhaps we’re better off living our own lives?

B. That’s fine if you’re fit and capable, but what about people at the edge – people with special needs, the frail elderly. They need good neighbours – and Christianity has something to say about that..

C. Yes, we all know the parable of the Good Samaritan. This is a bit different though, it’s about putting somebody right.

B. Which could be a real favour to a fellow Christian who needed support

A. -or a snoopers charter? A chance for every busybody to have a field day.

C. I think Matthew’s church probably knew and faced those problems. Think about what it says. The first stage is a private discussion.

B. Which is a great deal better than gossipping about what someone has done to everybody else

A. Well, at least we are told to go and talk to the person face to face, I’ll grant you that.

C. At that stage, two things could happen. The offender could see that there was something wrong, and do something to put it right.

A. – or he could say there was nothing wrong, and they’d just disagree?

B. unless the complainer understood better what had happened and changed his mind about it being wrong.

C. OK. So it might all get sorted out if the two people just talked. The second stage is when, having tried stage 1 and not resolved things, the complainer takes some other people along with him.

B. Presumably these are people who agree with him that this is important enough to make an issue of.

C. Quite, and they may be people who know what actually happened. Again, this may sort it all out. The offender may see that there is a real issue to deal with, not just one person moaning.

B. And the extra people may be able to arbitrate, and find a way out.

A. They’d have to be very careful. Handled the wrong way this could be a kangaroo court.

C. True. But the safeguard against that is stage 3.

B. If the offender and the small group don’t agree, then (and only then) it is explained to the whole church for their decision. That prevents small groups trying to have it all their own way.

A. I suppose, if anyone ever actually worked through this method, it would save some problems. And it might just be worth it to get rid of gossip!

C. Yes, gossip has done a great deal of harm, and the church hasn’t always had a good reputation for avoiding it.

B. Which might just be why Matthew’s church took this seriously enough for it to be part of our gospel. But, what do you make of v18 – the bit about “what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven”. I can’t see how that works.

C. It looks as if Jesus is saying that the decision of the church community is binding, and rules over the opinion of the individual.

A. I don’t like that! What about freedom of thought!

B. You’re still free to think what you like, but you may not then be part of the church.

C. If you think about it, all communities are like that. They have rules and enforce them.

A. Eh?

C. Well, for example, I think the speed limit outside my house is ridiculous. But I can’t change it unless I can persuade lots of other people that it’s wrong, and wrong enough to do something about.

B. So if you just follow your own ideas, you end up with fines and penalty points. Yes, I see what you mean. But it’s still a bit of a shock. I don’t think I realised that Jesus took the Christian congregation so seriously as to let them make such important decisions.

A. I’m still not sure that I like the idea of other people telling me what to do, but this system is growing on me. Perhaps we could try it in our study group and see how it worked in practice?

B. That would be good. I think we might have lost something important by not doing it this way.

C. I’ve just had a strange thought.

A. Go on, tell us.

B. We can take it – probably.

C. Well, think about heaven.

B. OK

C. In heaven there will be no secrets, so we will all know everything about everybody!

A. Oh no!

B. But it should be all right, because in heaven we shall have learnt to forgive properly.

ABC (together) It’ll certainly be different!

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