The Forgiveness of Sin–Part VI


We now move to the fourth section of teaching material in the Gospel of Matthew.  Chapter 18 contains teachings about the forgiveness of sin.

At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus announces His message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Through Christ comes the invitation to repentance and the authority and power to forgive sins.  The mercy of God is shown in what Jesus came to do–shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins.  We are reminded of Jesus’ sacrificial death every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist.  In preparation for the coming of the kingdom, sins are forgiven so that we may meet the Lord cleansed of our iniquity.

Matthew 18 tells us about the forgiveness that Jesus brings.  It is only in Matthew among the Gospels that Jesus refers to the church.  He outlines a procedure for excluding individuals from the life of the church for the sin or sins they have committed.  The intention of exclusion is eventually to re-include the brother.  The procedure comes in three parts:  tell the brother (sister) his fault;  if he doesn’t listen, take two others with you to him; if the person remains recalcitrant, take the fault to the whole church; if again there is no success, treat the guilty as a Gentile or tax collector, presumably meaning exclude him from the community.  Whatever is bound on earth is also bound in heaven; whatever is loosed on earth, is loosed in heaven, that is, the church has authority to excommunicate. Lutheran churches uses a similar procedure today.

Surrounding this text are others having to do with forgiveness and the mercy of God.  The preceding text is about the lost sheep whom the shepherd seeks out.  The little ones, or Christians, are not to be despised; for, it is the Father’s will that they do not perish.

In the text that follows,  Jesus answers Peter’s question about how many times one should forgive a brother.  The Lord responds with seventy-seven times!  Then he proceeds to tell a parable about a servant who owes his master 10, 000 talents, a huge sum, but can not pay.  Instead of selling the servant and his family into slavery, the master forgives the debt–astounding; but, the servant didn’t forgive those who owed him.  When the master found out that the servant showed no mercy, he had him put in jail.  Jesus then states that God will do the same to those who do not forgive others, that is, they will be condemned.

The passage regarding church discipline is encompassed by texts that have to do with God’s mercy.  Exclusion from the community is meant as a temporary measure in order to re-include a brother so that through the church, he continues to live in the mercy of God.

In our witness and defense of the faith, we are obliged to speak to others about the mercy of God.  Though they are not yet brothers and sisters in Christ, they need to hear the word of God’s desire that they share in the life of the church where God’s mercy is proclaimed and practiced.  When one of Christ’s flock, the brother will continue to hear the mercy of God proclaimed and celebrated.  How sweet to the believer’s ear is the misericordia Dei–the mercy of God!



Michael G. Tavella

Saint Patrick

March 18, 2024


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