23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Ages 9-12): The Power of the Community
Updated: Sep 6
(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
Jesus knows that the Plan of God is to fill all people, all creation, with the life of God "so that God may be all in all." (1 Corinthians 15:28) He knows that the Plan involves offering his whole self--body and soul--for the world. He will die and on the third day be raised, first born of the dead, so full of the Risen life of God that he can never die again. His Risen life will begin to spread, first to the apostles, and then outwards forming a community of the faithful. But what will life be like in that community? How can they participate in the plan?
As Jesus heads towards Jerusalem, he tries to open the Plan to the disciples. First he tells them the parable of the Found Sheep.
What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Matthew 18:12-14)
Here is the role that the Good Shepherd plays. He searches and finds the one who is lost. Why? Because God does not want one to be lost. God wants them all.
Jesus knows that sin is a way to be lost. Sin breaks down relationships between people. It cuts people off from others leaving them out of the sheepfold. The Jewish people have a way of returning to the sheepfold called teshuvah. It involves seeking forgiveness and making things right with the one whom you sinned against. And this is good. The lost one calls out to be found.
But Jesus does not wait around to be called. Jesus does the calling. ("He calls his own sheep by name..." John 10:3b) He does not wait for the lost to ask to be found, he just goes out and searches. And he shares this job with the community of the faithful:
“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.
We, too, search for the lost.
“If your brother or sister sins against you..." We can think of times when this has happened to us. Someone at school speaks unkindly to us. Someone on the playground cheats at soccer or basketball. We know people who have lied to us or have stolen from us. These are things we know they did on purpose.
There are other times, too, when someone hurts us possibly just thoughtlessly or accidentally. However, often we would like to believe that they did it on purpose. They are bad, mean, undeserving of forgiveness. Undeserving of being found.
Undeserving? The good shepherd does not ask if the sheep deserves to be found. It is the will of God that all are found. Even the Gentile. Even the tax collector. Even those we'd prefer to leave out.
Jesus knows we do not always want to participate in the Plan when someone sins against us. We could come up with all kinds of schemes to get revenge. So Jesus gives us clear instructions:
“If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. " When someone offends us, hurts us, is mean to us, it can seem so right to go and tell others what they have done. It can feel good to see others get indignant on our behalf, upset at what has happened to us. We can want others on our side, against the other.
If we do this, we are skipping the first step.
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 doesn't 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 will have done the work of the Good Shepherd, we will have returned the lost to the sheepfold. Our participation moves the Plan of God moves forward towards completion.
It doesn't always work though, does it?
"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." So now we get people on our side after all, right? We 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 have to imagine what it would be like to be that lost sheep. After all, each of us has sinned. Would we want a gang of people pointing fingers and smugly declaring that we are wrong and everyone knows it? Would that encourage us to return? Would we know what to do next? If our goal is to return the lost to the sheepfold, 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?? Yes! We have been given the task of building the kingdom of God. So we have to remember that, "it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost."
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 doesn't 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 are asking God for something. That means we are praying. Praying changes us. It makes us align our hearts with God. When we pray together, my heart aligns with God and your heart aligns with God--we are totally in agreement with each other. When my will and your will are totally in line with each other, isn't that because we are completely in tune with the Plan of God? Think of the unity! You and me, one with God!
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.”
We begin our prayer, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," and who is with us?
God is with us when the community of the faithful gathers to pray. God is there filling us with life. Closer and closer to the time when "God may be all in all."