Some people show their insecurities by trying to excommunicate other people.
They think Jesus would approve, and they quote Matthew 18:17 to justify excommunicating members of the Church:
“If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
But how did Jesus treat tax collectors? He dined with them! (Mk 2:15-16). So that is how you should treat those you would despise. You should dine with them.
As a teacher, Jesus could expect his disciples to follow his example. He told his disciples — you shall treat A as you treat B, knowing that he had already demonstrated how to treat these others — with kindness!! By all means, invite them to dine with you in Eucharistic joy!!
Would Jesus have asked his disciples to do anything less than he did? Jesus expected his disciples to dine with tax collectors, not former reformed tax collectors, but the real thing. Jesus expected his disciples to copy his behavior. Yes, treat all those you disagree with like tax collectors, that is, dine with them in Eucharistic joy!!!
Also, do you recall that Jesus dined, not just with tax collectors, but also with Pharisees with whom he disagreed (Lk 7:36). Jesus did not shun those he disagreed with. Instead he dined with them.
(Isn’t this sort of like the saying, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer”!!!)
Jesus says treat disagreeable people as you would a tax collector (Mt 18:17). But Jesus is talking to his disciples. In all things, the disciples are supposed to follow the Way of their Teacher. As teacher, Jesus expected them to follow his example of forgiveness and inclusiveness.
Have any of the fanatics trying to excommunicate people noticed that the passage that they mistakenly believe has Jesus excommunicating people (Mt 18:17) is part of a section on forgiveness?
Notice that section of Matthew 18 starts out with “if another member of the church sins against you,” and concludes with “forgive 70 x 7 times.” So this is instruction on forgiveness.
It is followed by the story of mercy where the servant fails to forgive. The point is clear – Jesus’ disciples were servants of their Master — those who did not show mercy and forgiveness were not worthy.
It is preceded by the passage where the Good Shepherd leaves the 99 righteous sheep and goes out searching for the 1 lost sheep. Jesus didn’t say stick with the 99 and excommunicate that lost one.
If you take Matthew’s chapter 18 as a whole, you see much of it has to do with mercy and forgiveness. And disciples are supposed to follow their Master in all things, even to dining with tax collectors, even to dining with Pharisees with whom they disagree! (Mk 2:15-16; Lk 7:36).
In fact, what does Jesus say about those who are so filled with self-righteousness that they would exclude others such as tax collectors? Jesus says in Matthew 21:31, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.” That does not sound like a prescription for excommunication.
Jesus never excommunicated anyone.
The fanatical self-righteous will claim that Jesus is welcoming into the kingdom those tax collectors who have repented, that is, FORMER tax collectors.
The Gospel tells us that the apostle Matthew was a tax collector. But I never heard that he was a “former and repentant” tax collector. Jesus did not say the former tax collectors and former harlots will go before you into the Kingdom.
It does seem however, that only believing tax collectors and harlots go into the kingdom of heaven (not necessarily repentant though, Mt 21:32). Believe in what? Being loving and inclusive?
Jesus could hardly have been dining with only former, repentant tax collectors, as that would not have been noteworthy. Also, it does not seem to me that a former tax collector is still a tax collector. If the tax collectors and harlots had repented, they would have been no longer in those jobs presumably, and thus could not be said to be entering the kingdom except as FORMER tax collectors and FORMER harlots.
The “harlots” were likely priestesses in the local Pagan religion, and harlot is a pejorative term used by biblical authors. Probably neither the priestesses nor the tax collectors thought there was anything wrong with their occupations. Nice that Jesus tends to shy away from condemning those sorts of jobs which were thought to be sinful by others, but not necessarily by those who held the jobs.
Jesus had mercy for the priestesses targeted by religious bigotry, mercy even for the tax collectors who were collaborators of the Roman invaders.
Let’s also take note of Luke 18:9-14, where Jesus makes it clear that the prayer of the humble tax collector is more worthy than the prayer of the self-righteous Pharisee.
We don’t know if Jesus instituted the Eucharist in a ceremony at the Last Supper OR if he instituted it at every dinner he shared with motley people, even priestesses and tax collectors, even those with whom he disagreed, even with sinful people, in every blessing of loaves and fishes, and in every moment of his life when he was in full communion with his Abba and with all the members of the Christ.
Every dinner with a tax collector was a Eucharistic event.
Are we excused from following Jesus and dining with tax collectors or anyone we disapprove of? Maybe Jesus had “special abilities,” and maybe he was like a superman who could dine even with enemies, even with those who would deny him like Peter, and those who would betray him like Judas. But Jesus said his followers would “do greater things” (Jn 14:12). I think he expected his disciples to follow his example and do even greater things.
That is, treat all disagreeable people as you would a tax collector – dine with them, and more.
Jesus wasn’t kidding when he said to love your neighbor as yourself – the second great commandment (Mark 12:31).
If you excommunicate someone, you probably aren’t treating that person like a tax collector, or loving him/her like yourself.
Who is my neighbor?
The tax collector.
If you excommunicate someone, who are you excluding from communion with them?
NRSV and footnotes used throughout this post