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If Two of You Agree on Anything- Matthew 18

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

My first year in college I had a roommate named Jamie. It was a real coincidence that she was assigned to be my roommate, because we had known each other since middle school. We had a mutual friend who introduced us, and we played in the same city-wide orchestra. I only knew 2 kids at that college before I went, and here I was rooming with one of them!

At college it was great to have a friend right away. We told stories about old times and teased one another, and generally had fun.

As the year wore on, though, Jamie started to spend more and more time away from our room. She’d get up really early in the morning and not come back until bedtime. She was short with me every time we talked, and it started to get back to me from some other friends that she was mad at me. Then I got angry because I didn’t even know what I had done wrong.

It all came to a head when we had to play in the orchestra for the opera together. We sat right next to each other in this tiny pit in front of the stage for hours of rehearsals. All the time, we didn’t speak to each other. I tried to ignore her by reading a book during breaks. But it was hard to do, and it was making me feel miserable.

Finally one night Jamie came in my room and asked if we could talk. She told me that she didn’t want to go on ignoring me and that she wanted to work things out. I was so relieved that she had broken the silence and so anxious to be friends again that I would have apologized for anything right then and there. I asked her what had gone wrong. She shared with me that some of my teasing had hit too hard, and that she wanted me to stop mentioning some of the crazy things we had done in the past. I had no idea that my joking about our past had made her uncomfortable or that my teasing was anything but good humored. But I was glad to know the truth. It felt so good to talk it through, and to say I was sorry. It was like a great burden was lifted.

It's a familiar kind of story, and illustrates the need for reconciliation that

Jesus was talking about in our Gospel lesson today.

Jesus starts with teaching how two people who are in conflict with one another can work it out.

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.” The text actually says, “if a brother sins against you,” –

after all, there was no ‘church’ back in Jesus’ day—that came after his death.

But translators wanted to emphasize the community aspect of conflict and reconciliation.

This makes sense to me, for a conflict between two people rarely stays between two people—

it has ripple effects that touch all the people around that relationship.

Jesus wanted to attend to the whole community as well as the people in conflict.

Jesus’ method of reconciliation starts with the aggrieved person.

It is their duty to go to the one who has hurt them and speak of their injury.

This is what Jamie did in the story I told.

I don’t want to gloss over how hard this can be.

Some people don’t feel safe speaking to the one who hurt them.

Others get anxious over conflict, and would rather let the relationship die than face disagreement.

Though I had been brought in a family where we regularly prayed together and talked about forgiveness,

I did not have the courage to speak to Jamie about the cold shoulder she was giving me.

She wasn’t Christian, but she is the one who finally took the first step in what Jesus teaches in this passage.

There are obviously more steps, though.

As many reconciliation stories as there are out there, we also have personal examples of relationships that broke,

Where no resolution or peace could be found.

Where we lost that friendship or colleague, where we cut off that family member.

What makes those stories different? What are the ingredients to reconciliation?

Jesus lays out what sounds like a process to follow:

Start with the offender, tell them the offense.

If the offender doesn’t change their ways, then speak with them about it with one or two others.

If that doesn’t work, then bring it to the community.

It’s kind of like an intervention, with clearly delineated wrong doing,

And with one person who is the wrong doer and another who the wronged.

There are cases that are clearly wrong, like abuse, which have a perpetrator and survivor.

In these cases, change is absolutely necessary on the part of the perpetrator

The injuring behavior must stop

The vulnerable need to be protected

For the health of the entire community is at stake.

But my observation of life is that most relationships are rarely so one sided.

The old adage, “it takes two to tango” seems to apply in conflict whether between people, groups, or nations.

Rarely is one party the problem, and the other completely innocent.

Interactions feed off on another –

one person’s injury inspires a counter attack, or withdrawal, or passive aggression—

none of which bring about reconciliation.

Add to that the truth that human beings are complicated, and there is little that is black and white,

All good, and all bad, and it makes you wonder how true reconciliation is possible.

In this midst of this passage that seems like steps to follow, Jesus makes a surprising statement:

“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.”

When I consider how divided we are as a nation, as families, as couples and friends and neighbors,

I think, yes, if two could agree on earth, that would be a miracle.

The miracle is not however what we do—our efforts at agreement or process or being good

But what God does

Jesus says that if we pray with our adversary, if we agree in prayer, that God will grant what we ask.

In the final analysis, reconciliation is powered by prayer.

If we want a peaceful outcome, if we want a restored relationship, then that is what we need to pray for.

What we cannot do, we turn to God to do.

I think it is no coincidence that one of Jesus’ most famous teachings about prayer is in this passage:

“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am in their midst.”

Jesus lays out a process for reconciliation, knowing that conflict is part of the messiness of being human.

He tells his disciples that prayer is key to empower the change needed for reconciliation,

and that God grants that power.

But he doesn’t stop there.

Jesus promises to be present, in the midst of conflict.

Jesus steps into the middle of anger, betrayal and hurt, and offers his presence

So that the hard work of being present, listening to the hurt, and changing our ways is not something we do alone

But with the graceful presence of our Savior who loves each of us as we are,

In all our triumph and limitation, and wants good for all of us.

Jesus prefaces this teaching on reconciliation with the famous parable of the lost sheep.

“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, doe he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he find it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the 99 that never went stray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”

The deal is that to God, we are all “little ones.”

Whether we are the injurer, or the injured, or both at the same time.

God wants us all back in the fold, even and especially those who wander out of bounds.

Jesus steps into our painful world to heal our pain at the root,

in the very relationships where we incurred the injury.

With Jesus at our side, we can absorb the injury without being overwhelmed by it

We can acknowledge it and let it go.

We can begin again with our friend, neighbor, or child

When we bring that graceful, forgiving attitude into our communities and civil conversations

It opens the possible for healing on the cultural and societal level.

“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.”

Let us take seriously this promise of Jesus.

We have a role to play in the reconciliation people, parties and nations

It happens through the grace of God and is powered by prayer.

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