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Jesus’ teaching on fraternal correction

Gospel Reading: Mt 18:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church. If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The absolute Christian action to personal sins and faults
The Gospel is excerpted from Mt 18:1-35, the fourth of five discourses of Jesus. In this discourse, Jesus expresses his concern for the circle of disciples and speaks on the relationships within the Church (the ekklesia or body of Christian believers).

The Church is not perfect. Jesus says, “If your brother sins…” With this he candidly admits that the fellowship of his followers is not made up of perfect persons but of men and women who are sinners journeying to conversion.

Fraternal love is fundamental. Jesus calls the erring person “brother,” the common designation for a Christian in the early Church (cf Acts 9:17; Rom 14:10; Col 1:2). Fraternal love forms the normal link among the members of the Church. This brotherhood, or fraternity, is based on the spiritual relationship that Jesus establishes in his person between the heavenly Father and those who belong to Jesus (cf Mt 12:48; 28:10).

The threefold approach of fraternal correction is a procedure of mercy. The main agenda of the Church is to reintegrate the one straying away – by his private sins – from the community. Each Christian is a shepherd to another, a keeper of his brothers. The correction or gentle reprimand by way of exhortation is inspired by authentic love for the guilty person. The aim of talking with the offending brother in a one-on-one way, or of having to call two or three others to talk with the person, is not to “gang up” on the person. The words of the Gospel are clear:

the aim is to gain the brother over… to “win over to faith”… for the person’s spiritual progress, and for the common good of the ecclesial family.

The ultimate challenge: “tell the Church… treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” These words, detached from context, may signify cutting off, excommunication, or ostracism of the erring person. But read with proper background, they mean exactly the opposite. The ekklesia is not a human tribunal! The Church is the community of faith formed by all believers, a fraternity rooted on the love of Jesus, whose primary mission is to feel, think, and act in the name of Jesus (cf vv 19-20). Jesus proclaims that the gathering of the believers is the continuing “Emmanuel” (God-with-us).

In his earthly life and ministry, Jesus always reaches out to prostitutes, tax collectors, and Gentiles. For them, he has forgiveness, compassion, and exhortation. When all these fail, Jesus leaves them in the hands of God, his Father, who remains to be our Creator and true Shepherd (cf Ps 23). This, then, is the absolute Christian response!

SOURCE: “365 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: publishing@stpauls.ph; Website: http://www.stpauls.ph.