In the Gospel for this Sunday, as Jesus and the disciples continue towards Jerusalem, he gives instructions to them about how to solve problems that arise among them. This is the kind of talk that drives Peter crazy. It means that the One he loves plans to leave them. When Jesus fulfils the Plan of God, when he dies and rises to new life, when his Risen Life begins to gather in more and more people into a community of believers, Jesus himself will no longer be with them like this. The new community will have to function on its own. Then what will life be like?
“If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the brother or sister listens to you, you have regained that one.
But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If the brother or sister refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
Apparently, life in community will have its problems.
“If your brother or sister sins against you..."
We can think of times when this happens to us. Someone at school speaks unkindly to us, makes fun of us, embarrasses us. Someone on the playground cheats at soccer or basketball. We know people who lied to us or stole from us. These are things we know they did on purpose.
There are other times, too, when someone hurts us just thoughtlessly or accidentally. However, often we would like to believe that they did it on purpose. They are bad, mean, undeserving of forgiveness.
When someone sins against us—real or imagined—we have no interest in gathering them into community. We prefer revenge. We prefer to tell others what they did to us, to get others on our side, indignant on our behalf.
When someone sins against us, we feel the Kingdom of God would be better off with out them. We can build it without their help. They do not belong with us.
Let them be like a Gentile.
Let them be like a tax collector.
Let us shun them and cast them out.
Except Jesus makes it his mission to gather in the Gentiles and the tax collectors. If he gathers them in, can we chuck them out? Jesus gives these instructions so that the community of the faithful can keep all those he gathers.
“If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone."
We have to go face to face and speak to the person who has hurt us. This can be so hard to do! Why is it important? If we tell other people first, if we get people "on our side," the situation can get way bigger than it needs to. Jesus does not talk about taking sides. Face-to-face is an important step because, Jesus says,
"If the brother or sister listens to you, you have regained that one."
We please Jesus, regaining the one he so carefully gathered.
God wants the community of the faithful to grow.
God wants ALL to be gathered in.
But Jesus knows that this does not always work.
"But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses."
Aha, now we get to have sides, right? Now we get to use the power of the group to gang up on the sinner and prove they are wrong. They have sinned after all.
We have to keep in mind what the goal is. We all sin. Would a gang of smug, self-satisfied people pointing their fingers at us and declaring to all that we sinned and the whole community knows it, encourage us to return? If our goal is to keep the ones whom Christ has gathered, we really have to consider how best to go about using the power of the community.
Jesus knows all about the power of the community. He reminds us we are the community of the faithful:
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
We have the power to make heaven and earth look the same??
We have been given the task of building the Kingdom of God here on earth. And Jesus clearly shows throughout his life that Gentiles and tax collectors, sinners and saints, ALL belong to the Kingdom.
How can we best use the power of the community of the faithful? Jesus says,
Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
What kind of magic is this? Does our power extend to changing the will of God?? If two or three of us plan to gang up on someone, do we make God help us?
That does not sound right.
Where does the power of the community of the faithful come from? Not from our plans, but from the Plan of God. This is not magic at all. Notice, we ask God for something. That means we pray. Praying changes us. It makes our hearts align with God. When we pray together, we each find our heart aligned with God—totally in agreement with each other. Our will becomes one with God's will.
Think of the unity!
The power of the community of the faithful comes from prayer. Jesus says,
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
in the name of the One who gathers us ALL in,
and God—I AM—is with us.
Peter can relax. So can we. The One we love has no plans to leave us.