The Gospel of Matthew

Being counter-cultural

This devotional is written by Stefy Barton. I first came to St Mary’s in December 2018 while church-hopping after I had moved to London. I am an actor, stage manager and freelancer currently working at Mountview drama school.

Matthew 18:15-35

Dealing with sin in the church

 15 'If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that "every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses." 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

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.

19 'Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.'

The parable of the unmerciful servant

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, 'Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?'

22 Jesus answered, 'I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 'Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 'At this the servant fell on his knees before him. "Be patient with me," he begged, "and I will pay back everything." 27 The servant's master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

28 'But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. "Pay back what you owe me!" he demanded.

29 'His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, "Be patient with me, and I will pay it back."

30 'But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 'Then the master called the servant in. "You wicked servant," he said, "I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?" 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 'This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.'

Reflection

What struck me in this passage was how counter-cultural Jesus is.

I have noticed in popular culture recently phrases like "Don't cross an ocean for someone who won't cross a river for you". There is an expectation that if a friendship isn't providing certain rewards, they aren't worth your time. They are "toxic". Of course, it is definitely important to evaluate damaging relationships - I don't want to overrule that. But look at how Jesus describes friendship here!

"If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you". This is fellowship and accountability at its best, where loving our friends is telling them when they've slipped up. In modern culture, if a friend slips up and hurts us, we are told they are "two-faced" and "flaky" and to leave them in the dirt. Imagine if God treated us that way. Jesus adds no terms and conditions to His instructions, simply states that a brother or sister making mistakes is a brother or sister who needs help to reconcile with God. He goes further: "If they will not listen...". If they lash out at or ignore you, He asks us to work even harder! Our Christian friendships are not separate from our mission as God's people - if a disciple is falling off the Way, we are called to be God's ambassadors. I don't think I need to tell you how often us disciples fall off!

The parable that follows confirms this by comparing how we treat other people on Earth to how God treats us. There is no cut off to label us as a hopeless case, and no point at which we are no longer worth the effort. How great the world would be if everybody built those kinds of friendships.

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