15 “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. 16 But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. 17 But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector. 18 I assure you that whatever you fasten on earth will be fastened in heaven. And whatever you loosen on earth will be loosened in heaven. 19 Again I assure you that if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, then my Father who is in heaven will do it for you. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”
At my high school, before students took their driver’s test, the instructor would tell the students “You have to drive across the Tacony Palmyra Bridge to Philadelphia, so you know how to cross a bridge.” Originally the Tacony was four skinny lanes of speeding traffic and loud tire noise against the steel roadway- a real white knuckle first time experience. I remember we all said we couldn’t make it across. Our instructor replied, “If you want to pass the test you have to cross twice, once to leave and once to come back again.” That’s the beauty of bridges, they run both ways.
In today’s reading Jesus gives us four steps to follow when confronting brokenness and seeking reconciliation. He’s asking us to build bridges so people can be reconciled. In the first three steps, Jesus describes a process for individuals and their communities to achieve repentance and reconciliation. It’s a process over time, involving the opportunity to reconcile, not a rush to judgement.
While the third step, taking it before the church leaders, seems harsh and the outcome final, it’s not. It’s because the sinner won’t listen to the church, and refuses to acknowledge their sin and repent, that the sinner has effectively put themselves outside the church fellowship. Jesus said this sinner was as bad as unbelievers and Roman collaborators, people Jesus’ audience avoided. But Jesus ate with these sinners in public, he didn’t abandon them. Jesus always keeps the bridge to reconciliation open to us.
Jesus said “if you brother sins against you,” but we don’t read this verse as if we are the ones doing the sinning. We are God’s children following Jesus’ example but we often miss the mark. In our families and in our church family we do harm each other, and we can’t leave it unaddressed. Sin not only hurts the person we sin against, it hurts us and it hurts our faith community. In God’s Kin(g)dom, we are given the grace to acknowledge our sin, repent and seek forgiveness, to be redeemed by God’s love. Jesus is our bridge that God has given us to cross over into new life.
The fourth step or ‘bridge’ in this process, Jesus has already built for us. It’s his promise that when two or three of us agree to pray, Jesus will be present among us. Jesus never gives up on us and as children of the Kin(g)dom we never give up on anyone, especially the lost, who we pray for without ceasing for their return.
By Jeneene Reduker
For Pondering & Prayer
Jesus is our bridge to salvation and new life. Are you in a place where you need to build a bridge with someone to seek forgiveness or be reconciled? Are you seeking a bridge to cross back over into fellowship? Are you seeking one to be part of a church family and find new life? Where in your life do you see the need for you to build a bridge or cross a bridge? That’s the beauty of bridges, they run both ways.
Prayer: Loving God, we confess that we are in a season of tearing down and not building up. Forgive us our sins and help us to follow Jesus’ example to love each other. Be present among us and guide us to build bridges for your Kin(g)dom. Amen.