September 10, 2023
Matthew 18: 15 – 20
Matthew writes his Gospel around the years 80 to 85, a fairly long time after the murder of Jesus and also during the years that the growing number of Christians facing conflicts with the Roman Empire and the Jewish religion, began to create and organize themselves in intentional communities to learn to live the practice of justice offered by Jesus in an unjust society. It was a time of violence and threats, of increasingly cruel and powerful domination. Christians, considered traitors to the Jewish religion, were expelled from synagogues. And following the example of Jesus, the new Christians became a threat to the Roman peace, a peace totally contrary to the peace of Jesus in the Gospel.
Today’s Gospel speaks of fraternal correction and how to actualize this correction. But behind this fraternal correction is a concept of commitment to community life that is radical and profound. It provokes us to evaluate our Christian commitment. It provokes us to question, who really is my brother and sister? With whom do I have the right to question behavior? Why and how do I have this right? Matthew writes to communities in the first century of Christianity, a time when people organized themselves into communities to together live the message of the Gospel of Jesus, to live together in unity and solidarity, embracing and defending especially those marginalized, oppressed, violated and excluded, while also being able to defend themselves and others from domination, persecution and mistreatment of the Roman Empire and synagogue. And all of this while together through experience they discovered how to live the practice of justice in an unjust society. The community was to be an alternative space of solidarity and fraternity, a space for welcoming the poor, the excluded, the marginalized, the forgotten, the abused, those whom the Roman Empire, as well as the Jewish religion during those years, excluded, oppressed and dominated. In this community, everyone considered themselves brothers and sisters. In this community, the Gospel call was to defend this privileged space of fraternity and solidarity. This defense took place through constant pondering and reflection on Jesus´ life and death, his continued, if different, presence among them as they dealt with the complex and violent reality in which they were living. Being a Christian was a call to commitment and a challenge because the consequences of this choice were serious. These communities became the living space of the Gospel, the lived and sacred space of Jesus´ new and renewing presence among them.
Who are my brothers and my sisters? Matthew says in this chapter 18 that in a true community, the greatest and most important are the weakest, the most fragile, the poor, those without power, wealth and security. These are the people whom the evangelical community welcomes and accompanies. What distances people from this living community would be a an inability or lack of continued desire to live intensely this sacred space of fraternity, sharing and solidarity, thus letting the values of domination and power based on wealth and social privilege seep into and finally invade the community life. The community lives to welcome the weakest, spread the good news and to defend spaces of fraternity, solidarity and sharing. These communities are sacred spaces for living the Gospel. They are only sacred, however, when they are radically living and defending their reason for being.
So when the Gospel today says, “if your brother or sister sins, go and, alone with him or her, show him the error…” what sin is it talking about? Why and how is fraternal correction? We are facing a conflict in the community, a behavior that is not embraced by the community. It would be a behavior that deviates from the practice of justice, the welcoming reception of those most important in the community, the community life of fraternity, sharing and solidarity. It would be behavior that threatens the evangelical integrity of the community. We understand that we are all learning to live the practice of Gospel justice in an unjust society. In the face of learning and the creative and untruthful dynamics of injustice, it is not easy to always discern and hold to the gospel path. Here there is great need of personal and especially communal prayer, reflection and evaluation. To defend ourselves and our commitment to our Gospel community, we need to know and be able to recognize the cruel and violent reality in which we live. We need to know this not only from the national and international news, but first from the word and shared experience of the fragile, poor, excluded and abused. The fraternal correction of the Gospel is primarily an effort to secure the evangelical practice of justice in the reality in which we live. It is to be part of a fraternal and supportive community that welcomes the poor, displaced, excluded and marginalized, that listens as they share their suffering, history and experience, that comes to understand from their concrete experience the unjust reality in which we live and often without realizing it support and defend. This experience gives us a different vision and heart as we live together amidst the injustice that surrounds us and discover together how to not contribute to this injustice creating new ways of living and practicing justice. This practice is not done alone but in community. It is a journey created together through living and a constant deepening of the Gospel, placed before the reality that we live and that surrounds us. The first question in a situation of possible deviation is to find out in personal conversation what is happening and why. How does our brother or sister in community perceive and understand what he or she is doing. If the first conversations do not enlighten the situation, invite other people from the community to help in the reflection. Most of the time, the deviation begins unnoticed and is unintentional. The influences against the practice of justice are silent and hidden. They are even hidden within us! Only our living together and continuous reflection reveal what is happening. Therefore we must always maintain a climate of reflection and not judgment. Fraternal correction helps us as a community not to deviate from the evangelical path that we have traced together. The first conversations are to learn the true situation of the person or people involved, as well as better understand the evil that is invading our sacred space. If reflection and dialogue in a smaller group do not enlighten the situation, then it is taken to the whole community. Always we keep present the climate of dialogue without judgment. Only extreme situations require the participation of the entire community, situations and conflicts that threaten the existence of solidarity, sharing and fraternity with the poor and excluded, realities that threaten the very existence of the community. If the person or group is not able to hear and accept the reflection of the community, continuing in their inability to fully integrate themselves into the life of the community, they personally exclude themselves from the community. Those who are part of the community are those who strengthen and share in the evangelical life of acceptance, tenderness, compassion and justice. This self-exclusion does not mean that the community is abandoning this person or group without maintaining communication and sharing. The community remains present in the lives of these people through prayer and accompaniment, always in the hope of reconciliation. And in this prayer and hope, the community has full confidence in the strengthened and active presence of Jesus in their midst, also encouraging the return of the brothers and sisters who left it. The presence of Jesus is guaranteed where two or three are gathered in his name, living in an alternative sacred space of welcome, sharing, solidarity, protection and transformation of the unprotected, marginalized and wounded in the world around us.
Today, what and where are our alternative spaces, our sacred spaces for living together with Jesus’ practice of justice in such an unjust and cruel world? How to create new evangelical spaces today that welcome and accompany the unprotected, the wounded and despised of our society? Learning how to live and practice justice in our unjust society is a Gospel challenge, a challenge that Jesus´ life, death and resurrection offer each of us every day and hour of our lives. The complexity and craftiness of the injustice of our world becomes ever more complicated and obtuse. The simplicity of the Gospel, the gospel of love, compassion, sharing and solidarity reflected and lived in sacred communal space penetrates and unmasks this injustice.
Matthew 18: 15-20
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.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
Meet Sister Jane Dwyer, SNDdeN