This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 10, 2017.
When you looked in a mirror this morning, what did you see? Mirrors help us see what we can not see for ourselves. In the New Testament, the mirror is a common metaphor. Paul tells the church in Corinth that God sees us fully and knows us fully, but we can only see dimly. What he’s saying is that we can not fully see ourselves and God as God sees. Then later in the second letter, he tells the Corinthian church that this process of seeing God’s essence in the mirror, even though not fully, still transforms us. James, in a similar way, uses the metaphor of a mirror for how Scripture shows us how to move our faith into the realm of practice.
This week’s gospel text in the Lectionary does not explicitly use a mirror metaphor but shows us how we need each other to see ourselves. Matthew 18 is commonly used as a text for conflict management, understood from the perspective of the victim. If you are a victim of someone’s violation, confront them in person rather than through gossip. Do this first individually, then with witnesses, then with the greater community. The conflict management is an appropriate reading of the text.
What if we were to read the text from the perspective of the violator? How do we know when we have hurt someone? Do we welcome a healthy feedback loop? Who do we trust in our lives as mirrors to show us when our unhealed trauma spills onto others? This is an alternate reading of the text that can provide healing to our blind spots.
In verse 15 Jesus instructs us, “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.” Let us put ourselves in the place of the violator. If we have hurt someone, we often do not know we have caused such pain until the victim has the courage to confront us. If we are able to hear that person without our defense mechanisms blinding us further, the relationship is fortified.
Unfortunately, Jesus knows that we can be defensive. We tend to be overly optimistic about our own self-awareness. Others can see us better than we see ourselves. There might need to be a secondary strategy in case we are not able to receive the feedback. In verse 16, Jesus says, “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.” In the secondary strategy, bring a couple other people to try to show us how our blind spots have hurt someone. The mirror is growing.
Jesus knows that it is hard to be convinced of something we can not see. Our internal feedback loops often are not enough to show us how we hurt others. He is trying to teach us to trust the feedback of those around us. He continues to expand the relational mirroring in our lives. After resisting feedback from the individual, the couple, we are invited to allow our spiritual community to show us the ways we can potentially violate those around us without knowing. I think this is what Paul means when he tells the church in Corinth that we are fully known by God but we see God and ourselves dimly. God, who fully knows us, uses the people around us to slowly heal us.
Finally, Jesus knows that we as adults often do not outgrow our toddler stubbornness. We simply develop sophisticated masks to hide our refusal to listen. Jesus says those that refuse to listen should be treated like those that the ancient community did not feel safe around, tax collectors and Gentiles. Jesus was connecting to their worldview. He was using an example of people that his audience kept at a distance. Perhaps the point here is that when we are unable to receive feedback from others on the ways we hurt those around us, we may not be safe to interact with.
We often want God to heal us but resist healing that comes from those around us. We think that God will magically show us our blind spots if we close our eyes and pray hard enough. Unfortunately, our spiritual formation is more mundane than we imagine. Our healing can be more publicly embarrassing than we can handle. This is all to be healed by God, who is Love. Jesus says, in verse 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. 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.” This process of having our violations mirrored back to us is as spiritual if not more than any sermon we listen to, song we sing or program we attend. This process of mirroring is heavenly.
The concluding phrase in verse 20 is one of the most quoted statements in 21st century American Christianity – “ For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” This is often taken without the context of Jesus’ teaching. We think that when we gather with other religious people, God is among us. Since God is always present, this assumption is probably true. However, in the context of this teaching, Jesus is saying that when we are having our violations mirrored back to us, God is present in that process. We could say that where two to three are lovingly doing the work of mirroring, God is present in that space.
Pastor of Vision and Teaching
Vox Veniae, Austin, TX
Tags: reflection; courage, healing; violations