And then the whole congregation will know.
I'm guessing that's not what Jesus had in mind as he explained his disciplinary procedure to his disciples. Gossip, I'm sure, was not what he hoped for in the ideal situation.
But, we're human, and we sin, and we all know that gossip happens. It is the reason why prayer lists are closely guarded secrets. It is the reason that HIPPA laws make going to the doctor a matter of national security. It is the (a? probably a) reason why confession has gone out of style in most denominations. It is part of what makes my job difficult - a long history of priests (and bishops) who couldn't keep other people's secrets under the stole.
And, in many ways, it is the reason why we all read these instructions from Jesus, roll our eyes, and come up with Title IV revisions. (Title IV is the portion of Episcopal Church Law that deals with misconduct).
What if, in our conflict averse, gossip-page obsessed culture, we took these instructions from Jesus seriously? What if we, privately and with tact, told people when they hurt us? What if we trusted two or three elders to help mediate? What if the Church, the ekklesia (yes 18:17 is the other place Matthew uses this word, and he uses it twice) the community, was serious about its role in real reconciliation (and not just the white guilt sort of reconciliation that for too long has defined the *former* mainline)?
Imagine the example that would set for the whole world? Imagine how it might impact Washington? Imagine how what it might mean as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11. What if Jesus knew what he was talking about?