A Provocation: Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost: September 10, 2017: Matthew 18:15-20

Matthew 18:15-20
18:15 “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.

18:16 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.

18:17 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.

18:18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

18:19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

A Question of Two:

Some Longer Reflections:

First, some obvious things:

All of this is obvious.  And probably useful.

But obvious.

But notice what this little scene requires of us.

Jesus requires witnesses.  Two or three of them.

What do you suppose happens when the person who feels wronged first speaks to the two or three who might serve as witnesses?

There are several possibilities.

That is what is not, at least to me, immediately obvious in this little scene about making and breaking peace.

Though it may not be obvious, it is crucial to the interpretation of this scene.

When peace is broken, even the protocol that is set for making peace can be a tool used by oppressors.  And, perhaps even more important, the act of attempting reconciliation can catalyze the deep recognition of systemic abuse.  The very act of asking people to bear witness reveals that the harm goes farther than anyone had imagined.  In such a system, there is no integrity, and no peace, only more abuse.

I find myself reflecting at this point, not on the Ezekiel passage paired with this scene in Matthew in the Revised Common Lectionary, but on the indictment offered by Jeremiah (chapter 6).

13 For from the least to the greatest of them,

everyone is greedy for unjust gain;

and from the prophet to priest,

everyone deals falsely.

14 They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,

saying, “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace.  (NRSV)

Jeremiah is not simply calling out deceitful trading practices.  Jeremiah is naming systemic abuse and the way it makes co-conspirators of us.  It is time we ceased treating the wounds of our sisters and brothers carelessly.  It is time we acted with integrity when called to bear witness.  And it is time that we actually started making peace and ceased pretending that there is peace.  Far too often and in far too many situations, there is no peace, there is only silence.