This passage is much-loved by those who tout the apostolic authority of the Church. But for us ordinary lay folk, it is about as down-to-earth as it gets with regard to the matter of specks and planks.
Jesus gives one of the few prescriptions for particular behavior ascribed to him. And he’s specific. Go to the person directly. Then bring a witness or two. Then involve the Church. Even if we don’t practice it, we know the drill:
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that ‘every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Wait a minute. How do we treat outsiders and tax collectors? How did Jesus treat them? He received the complaint of the Syro-Phoenician woman and he responded with healing. He listened to the woman at the well. He praised the faith of the centurion. As for tax collectors, wasn’t Matthew called to be a disciple?
I think we all know … or assume that Jesus meant to cast out the insistent and unrepentant sinner. But this passage has always troubled me on two fronts. First, how I handle offenses. And second, am I prepared to call an attacker to discipleship in Christ?
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
Depending on the subject matter, of course, there may be boldness or timidity in the binding and loosing. Some sins are forgiveable. Others, less so.