23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year: A
Eze 33.7-9; Rm 13.8-10; Mt 18.15-20
Over the triple doorways of the cathedral of Milan there are three inscriptions spanning the splendid arches. Over one is carved a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, "All that which pleases is but for a moment."
Over the other is sculptured a cross, and there are the words, "All that which troubles us is but for a moment."
But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, "That only is important which is eternal."
If we always realize these three truths, we will not let trifles trouble us, not be interested so much in the passing pleasures of the hour. We should live for the permanent and the eternal.
Three Point Plan
In our Gospel text today, Jesus gives us a three-point plan for handling disagreements in the community known as church. Jesus gives us a three-point plan for handling disagreements in the community known as church. This emphasis on community – and not individuality – is hammered home by the conclusion of the Gospel text today, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
The post-resurrection writer of this Gospel ascribed to St. Matthew would have known about the various and sundry issues causing strife in the Matthian church – the church over which Matthew would’ve been leader. This manual for maintaining community standards was a way to keep the people of the community in harmony, and in addition to the levels of trying to reprove a sibling, these three steps dealt with the seriousness of issues – major schism making offenses would’ve almost certainly wound up before the whole of the community.
These instructions for, in plainest terms, church discipline – the maintenance of community standards for the good of the Church, and it doesn’t end very nicely, “If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Matthew – the most Jewish of the Gospels – uses this language to say that when someone is in clear violation of the will, standards, and principles of the community the church community is to wash their hands and kick the dust of their feet. It’s harsh words that are meant to be harsh: the Church hearing this originally was young and schism was breaking various churches apart from the moment of the resurrection. The only way to preserve this new group of Jews and Gentiles following Jesus as Messiah was to keep the community together without personal petty conflicts – or heretical, schismatic ideas – was to have a form of discipline and way to expel people from the body.
It is important to note, however, that it’s not a single member that calls for the expulsion of a member or two members or three members from the body. Before that step was taken, an individual, two additional individuals, and finally the whole church community must have first spoken to them. Before moving to the end of this text, I implore you not to hear that God is a vending machine whose buttons can be pressed if two people (or more) are pushing them. This requirement of more people is part and parcel of what is really the crux of this text: community. Jesus again underscores that in the conclusion of this selection from the Gospel, “For where two or tree are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Christ – and the early church mothers and fathers – didn’t intend for Christianity to be practiced in solitude. Full stop. Whether someone “believes in organized religion” or not, being together with others for the work and worship of Christ is part of this religion, and in the first century, it took the will of the community – bound together in tension of being human beings trying to do their best in the world – to expel members.
Students blame teachers for their poor results; children blame parents and parents blame children for family discord; while workers blame the management and the management blames the worker. Everyone is blaming each other, but nobody is prepared to shoulder the blame. Nobody is prepared to search within for their faults. And nobody is bold enough to admit their mistakes and do something about them. This is the reason for the misery which plagues our lives.
We speak of a thing as correct with reference to some rule or standard of comparison; as, a correct account, a correct likeness, a man of correct deportment. We speak of a thing as accurate with reference to the care bestowed upon its execution, and the increased correctness to be expected there from; as, an accurate statement, an accurate detail of particulars. We speak of a thing as exact with reference to that perfected state of a thing in which there is no defect and no redundance; as, an exact coincidence, the exact truth, an exact likeness. We speak of a thing as precise when we think of it as strictly conformed to some rule or model, as if cut down thereto; as a precise conformity instructions; precisely right; he was very precise in giving his directions.
In any industrial production process, a quality controller is on hand to ensure that the product being manufactured is up to standard. It is his responsibility to ensure that faulty goods are rejected and only the perfect products are packed for sale. Without this step, a company's reputation is likely to suffer. The same is true in life. By failing to assess our faults within, and by not taking appropriate measures to correct them, we are unable to live at peace with the world.
Hence, it is essential that we regularly pause and ask ourselves, "What are my faults? And what can I do to correct them." Only then can progress be made. This habit of introspection is important in every aspect of life. Consider a team - in football, cricket, baseball or any other sport - which performs below standard. Only by analysing and accepting their mistakes can individual players and the team as a whole improve. To help a player improve, the first necessity is for him to analyse his own performance and his own strengths and weaknesses. The second requirement is a good manager who gives constructive criticism.
The Selling Game
If real progress is desired, then introspection, admission of faults and steps for their correction are essential. In the intensely competitive consumer market, companies which adopt a self-critical review policy succeed and progress rapidly. Those who believe, "no consumer is wrong," or "if anything is wrong, it is wrong with me," or "you can always improve" will be more capable of meeting their customers' demands and so increase their profits.
Until one reflects within, the intensity with which baser instincts have taken a controlling grip in one's life will not be realised. If one does not stop to reflect, one's actions will lead one away from God.
The same attitude of indifference and acceptance of sinful ways can be said about other sins that have gradually become acceptable within society by most of the people. These are the sins of divorce, common-law relationships, the removal of prayer from the schools, the teaching of atheism etc... All of these are perversions of the truth that lead away from God's Holiness and holy ways.
While some may be hesitant to speak up against the sins of others, saying, "It is none of my business.", or "They are protected under the Charter of Rights.", this is not so according to God. As a Christian, we have an obligation to make it our responsibility and we have an obligation to contact our representatives of the Government to ask that the Charter of Rights and the laws be changed to reflect the ways of God. Until such time as it is done, God will condemn us alongside those who live in sin!
Regular review, regular check, regular correction, examination is a must to make progress in our life. First of all parents are invited to show the right path to children, teachers are expected to correct children so that they may really make progress and achieve their goal. Management must review the condition or workers, and workers must review their work performance, so that they work as per their commitment they had made on the day agreed to work in that firm.
Being in community requires putting ourselves aside – and our passions and factions aside. As St. Paul directs, “I come with Christians far and near to find, as all are fed, the new community of love in Christ’s communion bread. As Christ breaks bread and bids us share, each proud division ends. The love that made us makes us one, and strangers now are friends…Together met, together bound, we’ll go our different ways, and as his people in the world, we’ll live and speak his praise.”
As we gather around this table – we practice an act of community in sharing a meal together. As we gather around this Altar we affirm our belief in Christ as Lord, who breaks bread with us and causes proud divisions to end. As we gather around this table we meet with one another to share in this feast. When we leave from this table, though, we remain bound, tied inexplicably with the entire body of the baptized. Whether we like them or not, we have to live in a community of love with them…or at least try. And as we go our separate ways – with those we like and don’t – we must do the work and the worship of the Holy and Triune God.