Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Modern

Matthew 18: 15 - 20

There have been a few times when I was scheduled to celebrate a Mass and for some reason, usually a snow storm, only one or two people made it to the church. On one such occasion the one woman who made it said very sincerely, “father, I feel badly that you have to get everything ready for Mass just for me.” I responded, “Jesus said where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in the midst of them.” Don’t worry, we meet the minimum requirement. Jesus desires that we pray, and that we pray as a community. He didn’t say “Where twelve or more are gathered,” using he number of apostles he choose, or seventy-two, the number of disciples. He tells us where two or three are gathered he’s with us. God gives us every opportunity to share in his presence. Earlier in Matthew he instructs his follower to go to their rooms and pray alone. He isn’t contradicting himself with these two teachings. The one is for personal prayer, the one we heard today is for community prayer. For community prayer we don’t need a large number of people, the community that is available at times might be very small, but that doesn’t stand in the way of even two or three praying together.

This teaching comes at the end of a passage that begins with instructions on how to deal with a sinner in the community. I think that we can also say that where two are three are gathered, even in the Lord’s name, there is sin. While the presence of Jesus doesn’t take away our free will and decision to sin, it does take away our sins. The love and mercy of Jesus toward the sinner can be seen in this reading.

In our time, when someone does something that might not meet the approval of others, even if it’s not a sin, it seems that it is almost immediately broadcast through gossip. The cellphones light up, emails and texts are sent out, and internet blogs and web sites immediately broadcast the “news.” The numerous and various means and speed of sending messages that we have today leads to a tendency to broadcast first, then maybe check out the truth of the message. It would be good for us to take seriously the instruction of Jesus and begin by discussing with the person one-on-one, then with two or three others, and finally with the wider community. While this instruction of Jesus is directed with dealing with sinners, it might be affective and more charitable to apply it with those with whom we disagree.

Our parishes and other Christian organizations and groups should be places of unity and charity. All too often gossip, backbiting and division can damage, and even destroy the unity and be like a cancer in the faith community. We are all involved in some way with other people. At times we see people who are doing things that are clearly sinful, and this passage is the instruction for how the community is to deal with it. We don’t solve it by rash judgment, gossip and condemnation. We begin with prayer and discern a way to address it with directness and in charity. This is not always easy to do. It is far easier to talk about a problem with might have with someone, that it is to talk to them about it. The Gospel today makes it clear that for the followers of Jesus it is expected that misdeeds and conflict are dealt with the opportunity for conversion.

Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.