23rd Sunday Ordinary time, 9-10-17; Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm: 95:1-2, 6-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-2
We have been reading in the 4th section of Matthew, which discusses the Kingdom of God and the Church. It focuses on the care and respect that believers must have for each other; we must guard each other’s faith with correction, seek out the lost, and forgive each other. Unfortunately, the lectionary chops up Jesus’ discourse. Let’s take a quick look at the three paragraphs just before our reading so we can be centered in the discussion.
First, the disciples ask, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus’ response: “Whoever humbles himself like (a) child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” This deflates our egos quickly when we remember what limited value was put on children then, especially girls. Greatness is not about power or prestige.
Next, Jesus warns the disciples: “Whoever causes one of these little ones (the humble) who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hug around his neck and to be drowned in the…sea.” That image is worth a thousand words.
Just before our reading is the parable of the Lost Sheep. Jesus’ own recap: “It is not the will of our heavenly Father that one of these little (humble) ones be lost.” You can hear a theme of the value to God of the individual, especially the humble and those of seemingly “Little Value”. There are thousands of “lost” people within a couple of miles of our church! “Lost” can be translated as lacking the necessities of life, or treated as worthless, or as unaware of God’s love.
Today our Gospel reading is about Jesus telling us how to function with each other in a church community. Why? Jesus was Jewish. They didn’t have churches; they had synagogues and the temple. Jesus never, at any time recorded in the scriptures, told his followers to start “a church”. Some theologians suggest that Jesus was beginning to realize that at some time his teachings would cause a separation from the Jewish faith.
Others suggest that the growing antagonism between the followers of Jesus and the Jews was due to other political, social, and economic reasons, along with general human hard-heartedness. Remember that the Jews had several internal sects that were in armed rebellion against Roman rule, and that the Romans, completely fed up with them, destroyed the temple, along with much of Jerusalem in the year 70 c.e. A lot was going on in the first century, and one part can’t really be separated from the rest of the story.
But we also have evidence that Matthew’s faith community was having the kind of problems that many faith communities have. There were some people doing things that annoyed others, things that were counter to Jewish and/or Christian morals, things that were disruptive, or stole the attention away from the faith.
The teachings we read today are ones that Jesus may have spoken as admonishment to the apostles, and served Matthew’s pastoral needs. They are based on well-known Jewish scriptures in Leviticus19: 17, “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him.” Also in Sirach 19:16 “Admonish your neighbor before you break with him; thus will you fulfill the law of the Most High.” Some corporate headquarters did not create this type of process to settle disputes; it’s been around a long time.
Gerald Darring, a long-time Catholic theologian, professor, catechist, and author of many books, has written this better than I can, so I will quote him, “We are a church, an assembly of people gathered to do the work of God. This work brings us together around the table of the Lord and sends us out to renew the face of the earth. The task that faces us in the world is awesome, and the obstacles are formidable. The only way we can succeed is by staying together, with Jesus in our midst, and our staying together must involve community efforts to correct our faults. When there is racism or sexism in our church, we must confront them and work to eliminate them. When economic injustice is found…, we must speak out against it and work to eliminate it. When militarism makes its way into the fabric of our community, we must stand up for peace and proclaim the gospel message of nonviolent change. An essential component of … love should be the help (notice he didn’t say “condemnation”) we give each other in overcoming the shortcomings that get in the way of our becoming a universal sacrament of salvation.”
If you have read, “Why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road”, you know that one of the issues stressed in that book is not the faults of other religions, but the faults and darkness that have made their way into our own belief systems. It is challenging to look at the history of our religion and the structure of our religious institutions. If you haven’t read it yet, you still have time. As CACINA Catholics, many of us have already had to face up to some social teachings and practices of other Christian groups which we had found to lead away from Christ. Sometimes someone must be asked to leave; at times some of us have had to leave. The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America’s goal is open discussions as a way to test our beliefs and grow in Godliness.