What It Means | Matthew 18:15-20
In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya says to Vizzini, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
The lectionary hands us a few words from Matthew to consider this week. In the middle of the passage, this Gospel records Jesus talking about a man who refuses to listen to the faults that other people find in him. Jesus says, “Let him be to you as the pagan and the tax collector.”
That sounds pretty simple, even satisfying. Practical. Just turn your back on the cretin and get on with your life. But hold on a second—if this Gospel was written by a tax collector, as tradition holds, we might stop to wonder. Let him be to you as…the tax collector. Maybe it does not mean what we think it means.
Most of us want to hear a word of rejection, absolving us for writing off the miserable , unreasonable heathens who offend us. We might stop to remember a miserable man in a hated profession, despised by everyone with any sense and a few coins to rub together, who was called to be a close disciple of the Lord—Matthew. More than that, if the tradition is true, this same wretched cheat wrote one of the four gospels. This Gospel, the one we’re talking about.
Now I ask, what does it mean when Jesus says, “Let him be to you as the pagan and the tax collector”?
Consider something else in this short passage. We keep hearing of two or three gathering together. We keep hearing of people talking, agreeing, asking.
Jesus isn’t talking about judgment. He is encouraging communication and reconciliation. He ‘s not talking about authority, but about true power—a different thing altogether—found in community and shared faith. In the context of this Gospel, the one who fails to listen still remains a potential friend and follower of God.
Hard headed pagans and money grubbing fiends don’t fall outside the circle of God’s grace. Given time, and given God, even they may come around and offer us a story worth hearing.
Who knows? When we finally hear their story, we might find that we were the ones who hadn’t been listening all along.