Responding To Someone Who Makes A Mistake
By Jonathan Mitchell

In Mat. 18, Jesus taught His followers how they should behave in the new communities which He was forming. This study will address vss. 15-17. But let us first see the immediately preceding context so as to rightly understand the directives that follow:

12. "What do you men normally think or suppose (or: How does [it] usually seem to you)? If it should come to be with any person [having] one hundred sheep, [that] even one of them should be led astray and caused to wander (thus: be deceived), will he not leave the ninety-nine sheep on the hill country (or: mountain) and, going from place to place, continue trying to find the one continuing in being led astray?

13. "And if he should happen to find it, certainly (amen; it is so; depend on it) - I am now telling you - he continues expressing joy upon it, rather than upon those ninety-nine that have not been being led astray and have not been caused to wander.

14. "In the same way it continues not being the will (the effect of the desire, intent or purpose) of My Father - the One within [the] heavens and within the midst of the atmospheres - that one of these little folks would destroy himself or should become lost.

He was speaking of a "sheep" (a member of the community) that had been "led astray and caused to wander" (vs. 12). Observe that there is no condemnation of one who have experienced some negative influence. Also, note the tone of this passage: that of a Shepherd caring about a lost sheep; that of a Father caring about His "little folks" (the young members of the community). This should inform the attitude of brotherly relationships within the called-out covenant groups. So let us proceed to our topic.

15. "Now if your brother should make a mistake (or: = your fellow believer may fail to hit the target for which he is aiming; or: your group member should be erring or sinning) [later MSS add: unto you; (= do you wrong)], humbly go [to him and] test it (or: bring convincing proof about it, laying the matter bare) between you and him alone. If he can listen and should be hearing you, you made gain and profit for your brother.

16. "Yet should he not listen [to you], take still one or two [others] along with you, so that 'upon [the] mouth of two or three witnesses (folks providing evidence) everything that is said (every gush-effect; each result of the flow [of conversation or outbreak]) can be established and made to stand.' [Deut. 19:15]

17. "Now if he should put his hearing aside from (= disregard and refuse to hear) them, speak to the called-out community. Yet, if he should also put his hearing aside from (or: disregard) the called-out community, let him continue being with you (or: among you folks), just as (in the same manner as) the person of the ethnic multitudes (or: nations; pagans) and the tax collector [continue with you].

[comment: consider the behavior of Jesus with "sinners" and tax collectors; recall that these get into the kingdom before the religious; consider the place of the ethnic multitudes in relation to the good news]

I suggest that the later addition, "unto you," was an attempt at clarification, reading the brother's "sin (etc.)" as being some sort of personal injury or injustice that the "brother" did to the person to whom Jesus would be giving the directives. The earlier MSS keep the topic more general, so that the "mistake" could refer to anything that this brother did which was a "failure to hit the target." Note that this means that the brother was attempting to hit the target, and this this was his "aim," but either his vision, his strength in pulling the bow, his release of the arrow, his judgment of the distance - one or all - failed him. But this would also apply to a personal offense, as well.

We should note the graded levels of the actions that one is to take to help the brother. First private, then with others to support in unveiling the eyes of the one who has erred. But note that we are to go in humility and bring "convincing proof about it" while "laying the matter bare." We are to "test" the matter against Scripture, or community norms, which would be "Love." Observe that Jesus calls to the Law for these Jews to whom He is giving the instruction. The quote is an example of God being a God of justice and fairness, and vss. 12-14 show that He is also a God of compassion. "Justice is how this God is incarnated in human history" (J.D. Crossan, The Birth of Christianity, p 584). This should also inform our reading of vss. 15-17. Finally, the whole community is called to speak with him or her. He or she is provided with a multitude of counselors, and helpers. They are all enlisted to shepherd this wandering sheep.

Sheep will often need to be herded, or even forced, to stay with the group. That is the Shepherd's job, or that of His dog : ) So obstinacy or "disregard" is frequently encountered. What does Jesus say to this? "Let him continue being with you (or: among you folks), just as (in the same manner as) the person of the ethnic multitudes (or: nations; pagans) and the tax collector [continue with you]." My translation, above, adds a comment. You see it was said of the "tax collectors" that they would be among the first to enter His reign. The covenant community's outreach would be to "the ethnic multitudes (nations; pagans)," so it would be that the community's witness was to continue shining the Light on this person. And notice that even though this brother would not comply, they were to let him continue being among them, as a sheep that needs additional care and, perhaps, instruction. They were to Love him.

Furthermore, what may be a mistake to us may not be a mistake to others. Paul informs us that God is, "not accounting to them [or: to US] (not putting to their account; not logically considering for them; not reasoning in them) the results and effects of their falls to the side (their trespasses and offenses)" (2 Cor. 5:19). Now we must also keep in mind that,

"the original things (the beginning [situations]; the archaic and primitive [arrangements]) passed by (or: went to the side). Consider! New things have come into existence (have been birthed; or: It has become different, new things; or: He has been birthed and now exists being ones of a different kind, character and quality)." (2 Cor. 5:17; [cf Rev. 21:1-5])

So for us, today, Jesus' words need to be filtered through the lens of the new covenant, as we apply them to ourselves, and to others. But our actions should be those of shepherds and fathers.


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