Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Striving Toward Community

Wednesday of the Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time

By Colleen O’Sullivan

Jesus said to his disciples:  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.  If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. (From "Blest Be the Tie That Binds" John Fawcett, 1782)

In studying Scripture, it’s always important to take into account the context in which a given passage is set.  Taken out of context, today’s Gospel reading could sound like Jesus’ prescription for kicking someone off the island.  But right before this, Jesus has told the parable of the lost sheep, the story of how far the Shepherd would go to find and save even one lost or straying sheep.  Immediately following today’s verses, Jesus will remind us that just as you and I want God’s forgiveness every time we come begging for it, so we are to be generous in how often we forgive others.

Jesus gives us some very down to earth advice on how to be community in his name.  First of all, be merciful and kind.  The goal is always faithful living, restoration and reconciliation.  Second, throw out the notion that our sins are nobody else’s business.  If we are truly part of the Body of Christ, everything we do, including committing sins, affects every other member of the Body.  Any sin weakens the entire Church.  Third, be up front in dealing with others.  If someone sins against you or the Church, don’t quietly unfriend that person on Facebook or bad mouth him or her to anyone else.  Those are great ways to cause dissent and hard feelings, to further weaken the Church.  Take a “can we talk?” approach.  If one-on-one doesn’t work, enlist the help of one or two others, not as witnesses for the prosecution but as fellow Christians who long to see everyone living within the fold.

Finally, Jesus says, if those measures don’t work, treat the person like a Gentile or a tax collector.  I don’t think he means spurn them or forget about them.  Look at how Jesus himself treated Gentiles and tax collectors:  He visited in their homes.  He ate and partied with them.  He helped them when their family members were in need.  He never gave up on them, always holding out to them the invitation to conversion and discipleship.  It’s that lifelong work of making friends, being friends, and bringing friends to Christ.

Something to reflect on:  How might your parish or a group within your parish be different if Jesus’ advice on how to live together in Christian community was taken seriously and followed? 

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