Matthew 18:15-20

The Need for Christian Community
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"

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Matthew wrote to show that Christ was the
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.

If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.'  If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.  Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

A simple story is told about an active parishioner who stops going to church. The pastor calls him up and says, “It has been a while since I have seen you. Can I come by for a visit?” He arrives at the house and is invited into the living room where there is a roaring fire. Neither man says a word as they sit down. Almost immediately, a burning piece of wood falls from the fire off to the side in the fireplace. Its flame rather quickly dies down. Soon it is smoking. Then it goes out. The pastor gets up and places the same piece of wood back into the center of the fire. Soon it is aglow with flame and crackling as it burns beautifully. The man says, “I will see you on Sunday, Father.”

“Look forward to having you with us,” says the priest.

Today’s sacred Scriptures invite us to ponder the communal nature of our Catholic faith — to recognize how much we need one another as we journey the path of life and faith. Let’s look at two concrete ways in which Christ points out the need for community.

First, we have Jesus’ command in the Gospel to challenge our neighbor properly. In essence, Jesus gives us a lesson on fraternal correction — how to deal with someone who has sinned against us. In this instance, Jesus uses command language that suggests this is an important responsibility.

Our Lord outlines a process that is remarkably wise. First, go and address the issue with your neighbor alone. It is important to respect their good name and their dignity. It is good to hear their side of the story. It is possible that an honest explanation may quell a misunderstanding. A private resolution is not possible when the matter is taken public at the start.

If the attempt at a private resolution is not successful, bring another person or two into the process. Often, the witness of two or three can be more convincing. Sometimes a few people with a similar perspective can open up the heart of another person. If that doesn’t work, bring them before the church.

For many of us, this process sounds good until we need to put it into practice. Sometimes our anger takes over at the start and we immediately go public. Perhaps we are generally afraid of confrontation; we weaken and procrastinate indefinitely. Then, we stew over it, talk behind their back, and ruin their name with gossip. In this way, we fail to address the problem in a proper, charitable way.

Jesus’ approach is the mature, intelligent and charitable way to address an offense. The purpose of this process is not to punish, humiliate, get even or seek revenge. The purpose is to win over the brother or sister. The purpose is to help the other, to love them — to bring back the lost sheep. This process requires prayer, strength and virtue.

One way to gauge if we are sufficiently mature to correct another person well is to ask ourselves if we are willing to be corrected by another. That is a great litmus test.

The second concrete way that we see our need for Christian community is with regard to prayer. “Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mt 18: 19-20).

It is important that Christians pray together. Christ is suggesting that it adds power to our prayer. It is harder to go astray when we join our prayers together. It is often easier to discern God’s will when we discuss it with those who pray. We are less likely to let selfishness rule our prayer when we pray together. We also are more likely to be consistent with prayer when we do a portion of it regularly with others. It is like lifting weights with a partner … when one is busy or not in the mood, the other can be a great source of encouragement and consistency.

Today’s Gospel passage from Matthew is an invitation from Christ to not be a “lone ranger” Christian. It does not work when we try to live our faith on our own. It is clearly not what Christ intended. The Vatican II document on the church, “Lumen Gentium,” in the chapter entitled “People of God,” states, “(God) has, however, willed to make men holy and save them, not as individuals without any bond or link between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness” ( LG No. 9).

“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them.”

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