23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Tax Collectors and/or Gentiles All

Matthew 18:15-20 | 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Tax Collectors and/or Gentiles All

In this gospel, Jesus tells us to approach a person who sins against us in this manner:

  1. Talk to the other person, just the two of you (v. 15)
  2. Talk to the other person with one or two others (v. 16)
  3. Talk to the church (v.17)
  4. Treat the other person as you would a Gentile or tax collector (v. 17)

My immediate interpretation is:

  1. Lecture them by yourself
  2. Lecture with others
  3. Tattle to the authorities, and then, if all else fails,
  4. Shun them

But this doesn’t sound like the Jesus I have come to know. That Jesus encourages us not to judge others. That Jesus demonstrates repeatedly how religious authorities can lead people astray. So while Jesus wants us to encourage the Christian life, those first three steps require us bumbling humans to walk a fine line very carefully.

But that final step is the real kicker. The Jews hated Gentiles and tax collectors.  They shunned them, and beyond ignoring them, they made their lives miserable. Does Jesus really want us to do that? That doesn’t sound like Jesus as I have know Him.

But then I thought about Zacchaues and the woman at the well. And I remembered Matthew and the centurion. And Ruth and Rahab and the Canaanite woman whose daughter was possessed by a demon. Tax collectors and/or Gentiles all.

Ruth and Rahab became part of Jesus’s lineage. Matthew became His disciple, one of His dearest friends, and an author of scripture. Jesus called to Zacchaues, not to reprimand him but to eat with him. He went out of His way to be with the woman at the well and the Canaanite woman, not to lecture but to talk with them. In the centurion Jesus finds “a greater faith” than He “found in all of Israel” (Luke 7:9).

Perhaps in telling us to treat sinners as tax collectors and Gentiles, Jesus actually wants us to do the very opposite of shunning. Perhaps He wants us to treat sinners as HE treated Gentiles and tax collectors—to share a meal with them, to have a conversation with them, to make their acquaintance, to forge a relationship with them. Maybe the lesson is not to fear the other.

Maybe Jesus is reminding us that we are all tax collectors and Gentiles on some level. Maybe the first step is the whole: talk with the person not at them. That’s where true conversion happens, and Jesus was a master at that.


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