As Ezekiel is appointed watchman over the house of Israel in today’s first Reading, so Jesus in the Gospel today establishes His disciples as guardians of the new Israel of God, the Church. We find one of only three instances in which Jesus uses the word church in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus addresses personal conflict by urging people to resolve their differences directly first, and then, if necessary, to bring others into the discussion. Jesus’s mission is to create committed communities of believers that will witness God’s love to a battered and broken world.
There are some basic premises at work here: One is that Jesus teaches that God loves all God’s children and that our need to be right is not always helpful. The organization for families of alcoholics, Al-Anon, teaches this premise and reminds its members that all of us, including the alcoholic, have a Higher Power who is not taking sides. People can work out differences in community by listening as much as lecturing, by understanding as much as demanding to be understood. Another premise of Jesus is that healthy people are loving and primarily concerned about others. This is what God does when it comes to us. We certainly offend the Lord by our sins and failures. Yet God keeps reaching out to us. God never give up on us, that is why he sent his Son as our Lord and Redeemer. In many ways, we are keepers of our sisters and brothers. We have social responsibility in family and in neighbourhood. Jesus is saying something like that today. We have a responsibility for each other, for the common good. We teach by example and by love. St Francis taught “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”
Jesus does not envision the Church to be a place of contention and conflict. But we know stories of his disciples and from the Book of Acts that the Early Church experienced a lot of tension and disagreement, even among its apostolic leaders. However, as the church expanded into the Greco-Roman civilization in the West, it had to take on and embrace different norms and customs, as it does even today. The challenge for the Church will always be to find and implement new ways of proclaiming the Good News. When we are engaged in that enterprise, when we are more concerned about serving others than survival, there will be less conflict and more delight in the people that God sends to us and sends us to. Sunday’s Gospel challenges us never to give up when it comes to trying to restore relationships. We need to bind ourselves to the Lord’s way of dealing with hurts and to loose ourselves from the world’s way of anger, gossip, and resentment.
The passage from Matthew for this Sunday concludes with a well-known teaching: “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I will be in the midst of them.” This is always heard as a reassurance that God desires us to be in community, whether small or large. Being alone is not necessarily bad, but it can lead to isolation and arrogance. It is good to remind ourselves of the presence of Jesus among us all the time, in the heart and hearts of his people. The Divine Triune God is a God of relationships, a dynamic force that empowers our spirituality and grounds us in faith. the Father Creator, the Son our Brother, and the Spirit our energy, our strength and our truth. The Trinity models what our relationships are to be: fully in unity and desiring of diversity. This is all summarized in the two verse reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another…. Love does no evil to the neighbour; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”