Matthew’s gospel contains a valuable lesson for the church in its 18th chapter. The church soon became an institution and the gospel foresaw the problems that would arise in the future. Any institution is invested with power and authority. The gospel desires to steer the attention of those concerned to use this mandate in the way that conforms to the mind and heart of Jesus.

The teaching in today’s proclamation does not speak of one’s brother in the usual or familial way. The “brother who sins” is the one considered a “reprobate” by the Christian community. A reprobate is not an ordinary sinner; he is a scoundrel, a villain, a real problematic figure. How should Christians act toward a person who is a trouble maker in the church?

Jesus tells us that we need to personally correct such a brother, involving others if he should resist that initial personal approach. If all else fails, he should be treated like a “Gentile” (foreigner) or a “tax collector.” In this last resort, we might think that the reprobate is to be treated as a hopeless case, as a lost sheep, an outcast. After all, did not Jews think of Gentiles as outsiders, and tax collectors as pariah of civil society?

Let us remember however, that the standard we should use in looking at people is not that of the Jews or of society, but of Jesus. How did Jesus treat Gentiles? How did Jesus regard tax collectors?

The Lord Jesus showed compassion to the non-Jews, extending to them his mercy, his healing, his helping hand. And from among tax collectors, Jesus chose his followers and granted them forgiveness, new life, and fresh mission in the world. So for Jesus, the trouble-makers around us are people who we must not conveniently throw away. Rather we must pursue them, love them, bring them back even if their response is a hardened heart. We cannot turn our backs on any “brother” or “sister” who sins. Jesus never did!

Today we cannot understand why the church speaks for drug dependents and their families who are hunted down, threatened or killed; or for those in prisons and jails for whom bloodthirsty lawmakers want the return of the death penalty. It is because of Jesus that the church advocates life, reformation, and renewal.

As members of the church, let us also try to recall people we refuse to admit into our circle just because they are not perfect. Many Catholics think that they are perfect disciples and when they find others who do not live up to their standard, they despise these brothers and sisters. May we learn to embrace like Jesus and to not push away others like the “perfect” members of our church do.