Jesus said to his disciples: “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, 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.”
The Gospel of the Lord.
“We should assume that a good Christian ought to be inclined to defend rather than to condemn someone else’s affirmations.” ~ Ignatius of Loyola
Forming groups in the presence of danger is common in the animal kingdom. Animals form tight herds when they must defend themselves from an aggressor and birds come together in flocks so as not to loose their way when crossing oceans. We can’t help but notice similarities when we look at the reasons we come together as humans. We come together before a threat of invasion or in front of a TV screen when the World Cup is on.
It seems Hobbes was thinking of man as a mere animal when he spoke of the State as solution to war. In order avoid being isolated, citizens renounce some of their rights in favor of a sovereign who is above the law.
The characteristics of the groups we join in with depend on what we believe about people: it’s one thing to see myself and others as wolves; it’s quite another to see others as my sisters and brothers whom I should care for. The truth about how we come together in our families, our work places, even our parishes and religious congregations can be found in the way we answer the following question: why are we together?
In ancient Greece, armed with a lantern, Diogenes sought for traces of our humanity; he was looking for man himself. Perhaps he found what he was looking for but sometimes I think he would have more difficulty today.
This passage of the Gospel speaks to us of a group, but it uses a very specific term; it speaks of a community. The Greek word for community is ekklesia and refers to a common conviction: we have not chosen each other; we have been called together. We have been called together by the wish of another person; we have been invited. The community therefore does not belong to us but is rather our response to this invitation. We are free to respond or not, but if we respond we cannot pretend that we are the ones who called the community together. The Latin term communitas, is suggestive because it comes from the words cum – munus. Munus means simultaneously both obligation and honor – onus and honor to walk with (cum) others. The community is born from a common responsibility.
We can truly care for each other as brothers and sisters, only if we come together as a true community and not as a pack of wolves like Hobbes and company. The community is the body, as Saint Paul says (1 Cor:12), taking up the same argument as Menenius Agrippa, a consul of the Roman Republic. The community is the body that suffers with each member and that rejoices for the well-being of all.
In the community that Jesus has in mind, what is always fundamental is saving the dignity of each individual and, for this reason we must each accompany him along a path of reconciliation. Within the dynamics of our communities, an individual’s mistake often becomes the motive to cast him or her out. But Jesus has something else in mind – a long and strenuous path, through successive stages, that slowly brings the person who has erred to the knowledge of his mistake, also giving him the opportunity to give his reasoning.
The power that Jesus has personally given to Peter (Mt. 16), is extended here to the whole community. This is the power to bind and loose, that is, to admit or to exclude from the community. Therefore, within the community we are all called to be responsible for who enters and who leaves, each in our own way.
This community that Jesus has in mind becomes a place of the presence of God, the place where He reveals himself. If in fact God is love, Trinitarian love – a love that is, in itself, relationship – then this love takes the shape of the relationships within a community. For this reason, the community – two or three – can render God present. Where two or three care for each other, there is God. But not where two or three tear each other to pieces.
In every community there are conflicts, even in that first community to which Jesus directs these words, but the way we confront them will depend on how we look at each other.
Questions for personal reflection:
- How do you feel within the groups you belong to?
- When someone errs, how do you confront the problem?