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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 6-9): Problem solving

Updated: Sep 6

(Adults, you could begin by reading the Gospel aloud to the child. Alternatively, you could read the first paragraph of the reflection to the child, then read the Gospel, and then continue with the reflection.)


Matthew 18.15-20


In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus and his disciples are heading towards Jerusalem, the great holy city. Last week we heard Jesus try to explain to his friends that in Jerusalem he would die and on the third day be raised to new life. The disciples don't really understand because the Resurrection is something entirely new. Jesus knows that in his Risen life he will not be walking with the disciples in the same way that he walks with them now. So, as they walk along, Jesus gives the disciples some instructions they will need when he is Risen, when they feel like he is gone.

“If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the brother or sister listens to you, you have regained that one.
But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If the brother or sister refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

These instructions are all about problem solving, aren't they? Three steps. We like clear steps to follow so that we know we are doing the right thing. But why these three steps? What's the goal? What are we trying to do?

Problem: "If your brother or sister sins against you..."

Someone has hurt us or upset us with their words or actions. We can think of times when this has happened at home or at school.


Step 1. "go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone."

How many people are here? Just the two of you. That's a small number. Why just two? Two people is a small number, to keep the problem small.


Let's imagine that someone has hurt us with their words or actions, either by accident or on purpose. If we go to them and say, "you hurt me when you...," what would they feel? They might be a little angry. They would probably feel bad. They would definitely have a chance to say sorry. We both would have a chance to make things right.

What can we say about our relationship with the person who hurt us? After we talk, just the two of us, are we closer together or further apart? Talking together builds a bridge between us. "If the brother or sister listens to you, you have regained that one." Together again. Problem solved. The sap of the True Vine flows well between us!

Step 2. "But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses."


Jesus is clear. It doesn't always work. Sometimes people don't listen when they hear that they are wrong. This time, he says, bring some other people with you and try again. The person has already heard that they have hurt us. Now other people are there to listen to the story--both sides of the story. Are they there to gang up? Is that what Jesus means? No. Remember, we are trying to regain that person, to bring them back, to build that bridge. Jesus wants healthy branches on that True Vine! Other people can help. They can help keep both people calm. It may take awhile. Sometimes people need time to realize that all these people are right and they are wrong. These steps give us time.


Step 3. "If the brother or sister refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church;"

Remember, in Jesus' time there are no churches in Israel, only synagogues. The word he uses means people who gather together. What do they gather together to do? They pray. When someone has hurt us and they do not listen to us or even to two or three other people, we gather together to pray.


Prayer never hurts. It can only help. It might help us see what else there is to do. It might help us see that we have been wrong, too. It might open up the flow of the sap of the True Vine in our branch and in the branch of the one who has hurt us.

Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

Step 4. "and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."

Step 4?? I thought we counted just three steps. If the problem is not solved, what are we to do? Do we cut their branch off of the True Vine? Is that what Jesus means when he says they are like a Gentile and a tax collector?


I don't think so.


Remember the Gentile woman who had great faith?


Remember Zacchaeus the Tax Collector?


Jesus thinks too highly of these people to cut them off the True Vine. He says,

“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

We gather together to pray and heaven and earth will be the same?!

Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.

We gather together to pray and God answers prayer?!

For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

We gather together to pray and Jesus is not gone?! He is with us! In his Risen life he is with us when we gather together to pray. All the branches together on the True Vine, the sap flowing from him to each one of us.


Let's keep praying.


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