Meditation of the week

A community of care

Matthew  18,15-20.

Today’s gospel occurs in Matthew’s fourth discourse of Jesus in which he summarises Jesus’ teaching on the relationship between Christ and the Church and on Church life and order.   The discourse opens with the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (18,1-5); followed by teaching on scandal and the care of “ the little ones” (18,6-14), and today’s section deals with brotherly correction in the context of church discipline.

The first part of today’s gospel discusses how a member’s conduct deserving of public censure should be dealt with by the Christian community. Firstly, the individual should be confronted by a member of the community with a view to correcting their bad behaviour. It must be done privately to save the sinner’s honour and to preserve the community spirit so important in Matthew’s  portrait of the  Christian  community   (12,46-50).  If the errant member refuses to listen and change their behaviour one or two witnesses are to accompany the original complainant, in keeping with Jewish law (Dt 19,15),  to support the complaint. If that fails the errant member is to be brought before the community. If he refuses to listen to the community/church he is to be excommunicated from the community.

The power to ”bind and loose” conferred on Peter ( Mt. 16,19 and John 20,23) is conferred here on a member of the Christian community. The public act of exclusion is ratified by God in heaven. (V. 18).

The role of the two or three is not confined to witnessing against the sinner; it should also involve intercession on his behalf. Whenever or wherever two or three intercede on behalf of a sinner they can be certain of Jesus’ presence with them and the granting of their request by God. Emanuel is with the disciples who live in care and prayer.

The theme of Emmanuel (God is present with us), occurs at three strategic points in Matthew’s gospel ; (1) at the annunciation of the  conception of Jesus to Joseph (1,23);  ( 2) in today’s gospel – when people/the Christian community pray together (18,20);  (3) the risen Lord  is with the Church until the end of time as it proclaims the gospel (28,20).

Some question the legalistic tone of today’s gospel in contrast with what we have come to know of Jesus’ attitude to sinners elsewhere in the gospel. Furthermore, reference to the church  (v17)  which did not exist in Jesus time’, and also the  highly developed ecclesiastical structure today’s gospel  presupposes, fit more easily into Matthew’s  time of writing than during Jesus’ public ministry.

Today’s gospel emphasises respect and due process accorded to an errant member of the community but also respect for the values which cement the Christian community together. These values complement rather than oppose each other.

The guarantee of the presence of the Lord in and with a praying community emphasizes the special place community prayer has in the Lord’s plan and the daily life of the community, and in the church today, as it addresses individual or communal problems.

As Christians we have a concern too for the larger local community/world of which we are part. A developed conscience engages actively with the social and environmental issues of the wider community as Pope Francis points out often in “ Laudato SI.”

The Christian community is one of care and prayer for all its members. It is not a case of one or other of the them.r Both are required.

Father Geoff O’Grady