Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Greatest in the Kingdom

 Matthew 18:15-20

The Gospel of Matthew is written at a time when there was deep conflict in the Christian Church:
This was all about culture:
Some from a Jewish background were insisting that all new followers of Jesus must follow Jesus the Jewish way.
Others, who were not Jewish, wanted to contextualize the teachings of Jesus into their own Greek, or Roman cultures.
And this conflict was painful – two centres of faith were emerging: one in Jerusalem and the other in Rome.

Matthew’s Gospel is an attempt to find answers: we are taken to a moment when the disciples of Jesus were faced with internal division:     
Mat 18:1  At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

Why did the disciples ask this question?
Clearly they had been arguing about their status!
Look at the way Matthew sets up this story...
Matt 16: Jesus tells Peter that he is key to the mission of Jesus: you are Petros – and on this rock I will build my church. I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Think how this would have made the rest of the disciples feel?
One is singled out for special recognition.......
Matt 17: Jesus takes three disciples up the mountain to pray:
Who were they? Peter, James and John. As they go up the mountain I see the other disciples looking at each other and feeling left out.
How do think the others felt....
So Jesus makes his selection and leaves the rest behind.
To make matters worse – the disciples who had remained behind tried to cure a man of epilepsy and they failed. And we read that Jesus rebukes them for their lack of faith.

The disciples now come to Jesus to settle their argument  “Who is the greatest amongst us?”   
Jesus recognises this and so instead of answering their question he addresses their conflict.
When you are in disagreement .... here is how you solve it.
Mat 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.
Mat 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.
Mat 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.

1.    Meet with the person....
Which means that we do not meet with everyone else but the person concerned and discuss the character of that person!
2.   Take others to help solve the dispute
3.   Bring in the church leadership
Both of which involves the person concerned and does not meet behind that person’s back.
4.   Treat the person as a Gentile and a tax collector:
Which begs the question – “what does this mean?” Note that this is not rejection or banishment ..... remember that Jesus had special compassion for Gentiles and Tax Collectors
He visited them and prayed with them.
Ø Remember Zacchaeus?
Ø And the Roman official’s daughter?
Ø And the Canaanite woman?
Here is the point:
We do not have permission to stop talking to someone
We do not have permission to divide from another person. 
We do not ever have permission to give up on someone.

So the challenge is for us to find our essential unity in the challenge of Jesus to solve our conflicts instead of running away from them.  

Ø Internationally – Israel and Palestine need to keep talking, calling in outside mediation, speaking to each other “like tax-collectors” if necessary – but never reaching a place where they stop talking.  
Ø At a national level – Jacob Zuma needs to sit down with the Public Protector and resolve his dispute with her instead of avoiding her questions.
Ø In our own community – we commit to solving our conflict, talking, talking, talking, and talking some more.