Year A 23rd Sunday: Matthew 18:15-20

18:15   'If your brother does something wrong,

go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves.

If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.

18:16   If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you:

whatever the misdemeanour,

the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge.

18:17   But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community;

and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector.

18:18   'In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven;

whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

18:19   'In truth I tell you once again,

if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all,

it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.

18:20   For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.'


This is a fragment of Jesus’ third discourse in Matthew’s  Gospel, the so-called ‘Discourse on the Church’. This speech is to be divided into two parts. The first part: 18:01-20 deals with the question: who is the greatest in the Kingship of Heaven? The second part: 18:21-35 deals with the question how often we must forgive. These two parts are closely connected. The greatest in God’s Kingship are the little ones, people who have nothing in this world but their hope that one day  it will be better than now. Sinners belong to these littles ones. They can only hope that God will forgive them. And God does. It is the most important thing He has to give. So when I am aware that I am a little one I may be assured that God has the most attention for me.


In the background we hear quotes of the Old Testament. Behind vs.15 we hear Leviticus 19:17, ‘You will not harbour hatred for your brother. You will reprove your fellow-countryman firmly and thus avoid burdening yourself with a sin.’ Behind vs.16 we hear a quote from Deuteronomy 19:15, ‘A single witness will not suffice to convict anyone of a crime or offence of any kind; whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two witnesses or three is required to sustain the charge.’

Heaven will follow you

In Matthew’s Gospel we heard vs.18 earlier. It was said to Peter when Jesus gave him the keys of God’s Kingship (16:19). These words are extended now to all Jesus’ disciples. Surprising word! Jesus is so convinced that his disciples are filled with holy, heavenly spirit, that he can promise that heaven will follow their way of proceeding.

Vs. 20

Literally translated, vs.20 reads ‘Where two or three have come together into(!) my name...’

From the Greek word ‘coming together’ is derived the word ‘syn-agogè’ (synagogue). And that synagogue comes together into Jesus’ name. As if Jesus suggests that we have to go into the synagogue that bears his name through the door that he is.

Swinging speech

It is striking how often the word ‘if’ is to be heard. The repetition of that word suggests that Jesus was a swinging preacher, like a black vicar in the black churches of the United States.

Picture Meditation

The artist places the content of vs.16 in the centre of his painting: ‘'If your brother does something wrong...’ The man in blue is the wrongdoer. What wrong is he doing? The young woman in orange tries to correct him. In the lower left corner we see the consequence if the wrongdoer listens. He humbly apologises on his knees.

In the upper left corner we see the consequence if he does not listen to ‘you’. Bring it before two or three witnesses. I notice that this part of Jesus’ speech is pictured much bigger that the part where the wrongdoer is apologizing.

In the upper right corner we see the consequence if the wrongdoer is still not listening. Bring it to the community. The Greek text uses the word ‘ek-klesia’ here. Those who are ‘called out of’ the human society to be the ambassadors of the Lord. Here the community is represented by a bishop.

In the lower right corner we see the consequence if the wrongdoer still does not listen. He is excluded from the community.

The whole story is placed against a background of a golden sun: God’s presence. Picturing Jesus’ words: ‘Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’

Looking at the picture I try to remember how often I tried to correct a member of my community... with love and understanding. Is there anybody in the picture with whom I can identify myself?

How often did it happen that I was the one who had to be corrected? Was it difficult for the other(s) to correct me? Was it difficult for me to be corrected?

I finish with a talk with one ore more figures in the painting; with Jesus.

Meditation by Fr Dries van den Akker S.J