This week we encounter what would at first sight appear to be a repeat of Jesus’ words from the Gospel extract of the Sunday before last. However,
TODAY’S GOSPEL READING [MATTHEW 18: 15 -20] refers to something very different when it records “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew has moved on in his witness to Jesus’ teaching – from the concept of the kingdom to the basic structure of Church, and now on to the daily essentials of the life and living in the individual, local, believing communities.
To begin with today’s Gospel extract focusses on disputes, quarrels and disagreements within the community. Here we will profitably read community as
PARISH (or local associations and societies). These debilitating quarrels and often rather silly squabbles are so distracting and disruptive of any community’s life. Of course they can easily develop into the wider communities of region and diocese. During my years as a Pastor of parishes I am amazed at the amount of time, effort and emotional energy I have been compelled to spend pouring oil on troubled waters and restoring peace (with varying degrees of success).
Our gospel verses teach how it should be done. First of all (instead of running off to the parish priest) “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Of course this means that
BEFORE I begin to stir up sympathy for my hurt (‘after all I have done for him / her … etc .. etc’) and gathering support for my cause I talk one on one, face to face, with the brother or sister concerned. This will, of course, mean that, in prayer and honest discernment with the Spirit, I should first of all ensure that I have indeed been unfairly or unjustly wronged. It should never mean that my nose is slightly out of joint and the only thing truly injured is my pride.
This approach may well, as our Gospel verses indicate, be unsuccessful. So, plan B is the next step – this involves taking one or two of the community (preferably who have been present when the conflict began and have witnessed the incident) for another genuine effort at resolution. Such resolution does not mean the aim is to ‘prove me right’ but, possibly to amicably agree to disagree – and then get on together with the more pressing, urgent, realistic and holistic needs of the group. Why should a good project which will benefit and grow the community be damaged or delayed because of a disagreement between two members? Finally, the problem may be genuine and disabling for the wider community. So the third step is to “tell it to the Church.” Here we need to know that Matthew’s record indicates that the Church refers to the immediate local community of believers. It does not indicate that we rush off to the local bishop or write a letter to the Papal Nuncio. We must all learn that, for example, each and every parish has specific structures – so our approach to the Church should perhaps first be to the Chairperson of the Pastoral Council. All of this means that both parties involved actually seek resolution and not vindication. It is never a good idea to seek out the Parish Priest as an individual
(reminding him of all the great and generous things I have contributed) and ask (demand?!) that he takes sides in the dispute.
In all of this it is a very good idea to be reminded of words from
TODAY’S PSALM [95 or 94] – “O that today you would listen to his voice – harden not your hearts.” Before I even begin the process with the face-to-face, it is imperative that I take ‘time-out’ tolisten to his voice and to do this with an open, ‘soft,’ heart. No doubt about it that a heart which is hardened against resolution is its own worst enemy and always counterproductive.
The power of binding and loosening in this gospel extract does not refer to essential matters of truth and teaching but is recorded here in rabbinical language. This indicates a concern with the handling and resolving of day-to-day disputes within the local community. However, the closing words of our Gospel extract are basic to what we have been thinking about.
The words “for when two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” must be seen as an essential element of the community interactions to which we have referred. The words are, significantly, to be found only in Matthew who was especially concerned with ensuring that the liturgical gathering of the emerging Christian community was an authentic replacement of the structured Jewish version. The verse does not, primarily, limit itself to the gathering of two or three people in prayer. Rather, the prayer proper to the community as such is liturgical prayer. The community is gathered with Christ and in his name.
It is imperative, therefore, that disputes between members
MUST be settled before we gather, by way of example, for an authentic celebration of Eucharist.