September 4, 2005 - Pentecost +16

Matthew 18:15-20

 15 If your brother or sister has sinned against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are in private, and if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 If you are not listened to, take with you one or two others so that the case may be decided by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he still refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembled Church. But if he does not listen to the Church, then regard such a one as a pagan or a publican.

18 I say to you: whatever you bind on earth, heaven will keep bound; and whatever you unbind on earth, heaven will keep unbound.

19 In like manner, I say to you: if on earth two of you are united in asking for anything, it will be granted to you by my heavenly Father. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am there among them.”

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Notes from [The Community Christian Bible

 15. If your brother or sister has sinned… Jesus had told Peter before: Whatever you tie on earth will be tied in Heaven. He declares it now for the whole Church. The believers must attempt to settle their suits among themselves, knowing that Christ is among them, as signified in his name Emmanuel: God-with-us.

The text of 18:15 is doubtful. Perhaps it was written if your brother or sister has sinned, go … in which case it would refer to the effort of the Christian community to correct one who has gone astray.

Gathered in the name of Jesus (v. 20). The prayer of the community, of the apostolic group, of the Christian couple.

Have we noticed that this chapter on the Church is so short? Yet Matthew is the one who is most concerned about the Church of Jesus, whether in the parables of the kingdom or in Peter’s profession of faith.

Jesus does not seem to have said anything whatsoever to his apostles about structures that would emerge (or even disappear): nothing but a community spirit. Welcome for the poor and lowly, never-ending forgiveness and acceptance of others, prayer of a community that has apostolic ambitions and cries to God to give what is asked of him; there we have the sum total of the wisdom and means the Church has in order to confront all that challenges its evangelization.

While we participate in the common activities, overcoming unavoidable conflicts, and per­severing in apostolic work, we grow as children of God in truth, thus knowing the Father in truth. The Church, therefore, is that sacred place where we find God, and to express this reality we say that the Church is “the sacrament of God.”

We also speak of several “sacraments”: baptism, eucharist… Some people want to receive the sacraments without having any commitment to the Church; they forget that religious rites confer the grace of God because they are gestures of the Church, which is “the” sacrament of God. God is not contained inside things, but rather reveals himself through the family of Christ, where he wants us to find him: Whatever you tie on earth… Our faithfulness within the Christian community, even if we have to dissent from it, is a sign that we are in the grace of God.

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Comments by Wesley

1. In the United States pericope comes on Labor Day weekend. If management has sinned against laborers, speak it to management. If you are not heard, see if there are others who might go with you. If all of you are not heard, consider the contract broken from the other end. With this ending comes an ending to an artificial power system that ultimately fails the test of common concern from both management and labor perspectives.

How else might you bring this biblical scenario into today's world? Would it include transnational, world labor negotiations? Do the unity issues of labor reveal the unity issues of prayer?

2. The ideal portrayed here of an easy step-by-step dealing with differences of perspective, of faith stages, of relationships seems to always be thrown out of whack by power issues of one or another. These issues often go back to that old bugaboo of entitlement. Who is entitled to claim sin or to initiate reconciliation?

3. I was particularly caught by parenthetical comment in the closing note above, "Our faithfulness within the Christian community, even if we have to dissent from it, is a sign that we are in the grace of God."

The tension between faithfulness and dissent is an ongoing one and cannot be escaped if we posit a growing, living GOD, faith, church, creation, etc.. A perennial question is which season is it? Is it the season of shutting up for the common good or screaming one's head off for the common good. This is also the question of binding and unbinding. Which season are you in? are we in?

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