ORDINARY TIME: 23rd SUNDAY A – Resolving Conflicts among Christ’s followers

Matthew 18, 15-20


lectionary bible


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.
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.
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  ‘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.
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.
20  For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.’ 

The New Jerusalem Bible 1985.  


First-century Mediterranean cultures strongly uphold honour and shame.  A wrong doing [v 15] or “sin” [NSRV] breaks interpersonal relations by shaming the other person, thereby offending the one wronged against.

Forgiveness assumes the social role of restoring the offender to the community.  In the New Testament, sin is analogous to debt, as shown in the Our Father [Mat 6, 12] and the parable of the unforgiving debtor [Mat 18, 23-35].  Prevalent experiences of peasant societies in the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere manifest debt being a threat to one’s land, life, and family.  Consequences are poverty and incapacity to maintain one’s social location in society.  Thus a person forgiven is restored to self dignity and social status in the community.  


In the conflict-prone or agonistic society of Jesus’ time, conflicts appear common since people’s honour could be violated wittingly or otherwise.  Various strategies are employed to prevent the conflict from escalating to violence, warfare, and bloodshed.  

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus exhorts “turning the other cheek” [Mat 5, 38f] rather than resorting to “tit for tat.”

Christian strategies for conflict resolution

Christian strategies for conflict resolution

The gospel passage for this Sunday gives three strategies to resolve conflict:

[1] confront to correct the wrong doer [v 15] in private with no implication the wrong is done to the one correcting.  Pastoral charity refers to this approach as mutual correction of a brother or sister in the community for any wrong noted.

[2] negotiate [v 16] in the presence of one witness to restore the relationship, or two or more witnesses in the event that the decision would be legally binding as in litigation [cf Deu 19, 15].

[3] when the above approaches fail, the matter is brought to the community to adjudicate.  The judgement in public is final with the offender given the option to accept the judgement or be excommunicated as an outsider.


The social dimension of sin and of debt implicates the significance of the community in Matthew’s gospel.  Just as Peter is given the authority to “bind and loose” [Mat 16, 19], the community is so authorized to judge in resolving conflicts and disputes [Mat 18, 18].  The weight of the decision arrived at by two disciples in agreement over some dispute is highlighted by the concurrence accorded it by the Father in heaven [Mat 18, 19-20].  In today’s context the coresponsibility of Christ’s faithful takes on crucial significance in matters of consultation and collaboration.


Bruce J Malina and Richard L Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Fortress Press 2003.

John J Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday, Cycle A. The Liturgical Press 1995.

The New Jerusalem Bible 1985.



Communion or Post-communion or Presentation of Gifts 

Where Charity and Love Prevail

Benoit et al









The gospel passage gives vital importance to the voice of the community.  

Jesus’ two promises are words of great encouragement:

  • “if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven,” and
  • “where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.”

As a member living with others in community:

family, BEC, parish group, or work place

what changes do I need to make

  • to be part of the communal process of ongoing dialogue and discernment, and
  • in my regard to what the community decides on after prayer and sincere consultation?