Matthew 18: 15-20
Sunday Reflection by Sister Marie Prefontaine, SNDdeN
Boundaries, like so many realities in life, have their positive and negative influences. Road signs and breakdown lanes, fences to keep pets and animals enclosed and social distancing floor markers and plexiglass provide positive safety examples for the common good. Walls to keep out the unwanted, vast neighborhoods of economic disparity and exclusionary behaviors of racism, sexism and classism are but some means of boundaries negative influences. Also, there are personal boundaries on a continuum of action of caring too much, not caring enough nor taking responsibility and everywhere in-between. All these types of physical, attitudinal, behavioral or personal boundaries can become sources of good or sources of conflict in our socio-political society, in our Churches and religious viewpoints and in our relationships.
Today’s Gospel speaks of the early Christians way of dealing with internal conflicts among community members who erred. They grappled with a myriad of tensions and how to deal with these conflicts, even as we do today. As Christians, we continue to ask: Who are my brother and sister? What are my responsibilities to them? What do I do when I observe persons losing their way? What are our responses? Do I shrug my shoulders and say who am I to judge? Do I denounce them by public statements on social media? Do I question my motivations of being morally superior in my thoughts and action? Today’s passage in Matthew’s Gospel is surrounded by parables of Jesus to guide our thoughts and action during these times of encountering conflict: Children who are named as the greatest in the Kingdom, the Lost Sheep, the Unforgiving Servant, marriage and divorce, the rich young man. In all these questions “WWJD” (what would Jesus do) comes to bear in trying to gently guide our brother or sister who errs and to guide us in dealing with conflictual situations. What shall I do? What can I do?
I can pray for someone I know who is straying from the right path. I can pray for myself to feel responsible for my brothers and sisters in the community of believers. I can pray in gratitude for those who join me in the name of Jesus, and who make God present in my life and my world. Jesus gently reminds us that by being members of the ecclesial community, we are responsible for one another, and one of our tasks of love may be that of correcting our brother or sister. This is never an easy task, and our advice risks our being rejected. Correction must always be inspired by real charity – it is one of the spiritual works of mercy. I can pray to be given this love and the wisdom to find the right way to carry out this task of love.
This fourth discourse of Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 18) is addressed to the disciples who lead the community and Jesus shares with them the rules for the Christian community. It emphases the role of dialogue and to seek consensus. The parables in this discourse accept that this is not always possible and the consequences are clear. To what extent do I seek consensus, or do I rather work to make sure that my will prevails? Jesus’ message is one of reconciliation. We are asked to “regain” our brother or sister, to seek out the lost and to pray for and seek transformation for ourselves and others in love.
Jesus’ openness to sinners depends on a change of heart and a change in behavior: “Go, and sin no more”. When we approach God in community, even a community of two or three, God is already there with us. Even as I pray alone, I am united with others who pray; I am united with all of those who hear this gospel today. When people believe and trust fully in each other and in God, the reign of God is brought into being. How do I/we take the first step to heal a broken relationship, if the hurt done to me/us is very painful? Where can I/we find the courage to speak face to face with the one who has caused such hurt? How do I/we become reconciled? We may need to seek the help and prayer of our friends, so that we will find the right words and the right way to settle our conflicts toward bringing about right relationships.
One of the first words in Matthew’s gospel is ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us. The end of the gospel has Jesus’ promise of being with us all days. We have a responsibility for our sisters and brothers, in our families and neighborhoods, in our global community. We can help bring each other to goodness, we can support each other, correct each other, and help each other on our way to God. The ‘in his name’ is the relevant condition. This condition means openness to his word and the traditions faithfully handed on by his community of followers. It means openness to asking for wisdom and guidance and the humility to admit none of us has all the answers. “In his name” means to resist engaging in arguments that create negative boundaries of conflict, and to let Jesus’ desire for harmony speak to my heart in ways that constantly invite into our Christian community all our brothers and sisters. For “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I”…Emmanuel.
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.”
The Gospel of the Lord
Meet Sister Marie Prefontaine, SNDdeN