This morning I listened to the dramatized ESV (Mat. 16-28) as part of a “Gospel Experiment” group I’m involved in. The text in Mat. 18 where Jesus is instructing us on how to approach a brother who has sinned against us really stood out to me when I heard it afresh today.
Go to him alone — to win him
Tell two others — to win him
Tell the whole church — to win him
If you cannot win him, think of him as (a) a Gentile, or (b) a Tax Collector.
What in the world could Jesus possibly mean by “treat him like a gentile or a tax collector?”
My sense is that we should look at how Jesus treated gentiles and tax collectors — then we’ll have the answer. He certainly won’t ask us to do it differently than he did, and he must certainly mean that they should do it according to their vocation as Israel.
Interestingly, the word Tax Collector is used 9 times in Matthew’s good-news-message-about-Jesus (cf. Mat. 5:46, 9:10,11, 10:3, 11:19, 17:24, 18:17, 21:31-32). And, as we know from the text itself, Matthew is himself a Tax Collector (Mat. 10:3 — more on that in a minute).
Up to the point that Jesus says “treat him like a tax collector” there are six mentions of tax collectors.
- The Pharisees are no better than them at loving people- (Mat. 5:46)
- Jesus ate with them (as sign of love and friendship) – (Mat. 9:10)
- Jesus got in trouble for eating with them (see above) – (Mat. 9:11)
- Jesus called one of them into his rabbi school (Mat. 10:3)
- Jesus got in trouble for eating (and drinking alcohol with them) – (Mat. 11:19)
- Jesus paid his taxes to one of them (Mat. 17:24)
So far, the only thing we get from Jesus about how He treated tax collectors is — remind everyone that they are no worse than any other sinner, hang out with them, take the heat for hanging out with them, hang out with them some more on their turf, invite them to follow Jesus and learn about God’s kingdom. That’s it.
AFTER the “Treat him like a tax collector” verse, there are only 2 more references to Tax Collectors. What do these say?
- Tax collectors (and prostitutes) get into God’s kingdom (Mat. 21:31)
- Because they believe in Jesus (Mat. 21:32)
It’s also interesting that Matthew’s list of Jesus’ disciples includes his own name, and includes “the tax collector.”
If I only have Matthew’s gospel, and I need to know what Jesus means by “treat him like a tax collector and a gentile” — then I have to watch Jesus and discover how he treated these people. From everything Matthew gives us, it seems unmistakable that Jesus loves them!
I see this as a reminder from Jesus to Israel about their vocation to be the light of the world, and to love the surrounding nations (without worshipping their Gods), and to love sinners (without sinning their sins) and to be with them, bear with them, teach them, and forebear them until they come to know God through him.
We might have to assume that a “brother” isn’t really a brother after we discover that he doesn’t want to follow Jesus (and only after we have tried multiple times to work with him/her along the lines of someone who claims to be a brother).
But after we discover they are not a brother/sister after all, then we get to simply be their friend, love them, hang out with them, and live in front of them as a follower of Jesus who wants God’s best for them.
My sense is that this is how we are to treat sinners the Jesus-way.