There’s an erring member somewhere, perhaps we ourselves are. It can be in the family, at place of work or among friends. Often, the recurring question is: what do we do with him? Jesus has a word for us regarding that straying member in our Christian community.
Bible Reading Ezekiel 33:7-9 Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-9 Romans 13: 8-10 Matthew 18: 15-20
A Community in the Name of Jesus
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is taken from chapter 18 of the Gospel according to Mathew. Here we find different teachings about living in a Christian community such as: warning against being an occasion of sin for others, forgiveness, humility –just to mention some. The text for this Sunday responds to the question: what do you do with your brother, that member of the church, who has sinned? Here the church is the community of those gathered in the name of Jesus. So Jesus gives a persevering process of winning a brother back.
First, let it be just between you two. If it doesn’t work find some other two or three persons as witnesses. Don’t give up if he doesn’t listen; get the whole community involved. And if that fails too, Jesus gives a surprising conclusion –consider him as a pagan or a tax collector. But we know very well that pagans and tax-collectors, though excluded in Jewish community as sinners and impure, were actually preferential beneficiaries of the compassion of Jesus. That’s why Pharisees and scribes complained –he eats with sinners and tax-collectors. It’s only evident then that Jesus recommends throwing no one out, rather, we should do all we can to win back that straying member. And remember, the erring member remains a brother, always a sister.
A community of real persons
Talking about a member of the community that has sinned and the long process of accompanying him shouldn’t be seen as endorsing or tolerating sin. Yet, it makes me appreciate one thing: Jesus knows that even in a Christian community some members can stray –It’s a reality of life. We are Christians all right yet there are times when we go off the mark. So, we don’t need to put up hypocritical show of holiness, rather; let’s begin by admitting the conflicts, the failure, and the inconsistence that exist in our personal lives and in our communities. And then we can embrace the manner of accompanying a member who has sinned as Jesus recommends.
In fact, I would say, the most scandalous thing that can happen in a Christian community is not so much the fact that there’s an erring member but rather that a Christian community denies or looks with indifference at the straying member. We fall into an extreme of: it’s none of my business attitude like Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the other extreme could be to profit of another person’s fragility to paint a demon out of him as though he was beyond redemption. Hence, the serious scandal would be the failure of a Christian community to surmount with love the experience of sin and the failure to move on strengthened and reconciled.
Witness of Christian community
The witness, and indeed the inspiration, a Christian community can give to the world today is not by flashing we are ok posters, giving the impression as though Christians live in protected cages, cut off the world. That would mean being disconnected from real life. Yet, in reality, Christians cross paths with non-Christians when it comes to struggles of life. With humility we acknowledge the conflicts in our communities, the tendency to look at others with prejudice, the tendency to discriminate…. If we can talk about these tendencies and the efforts we are making to act against them; then we can perhaps become inspiring Christian communities.
When others see us struggle like them and yet see also how we are rising above such inhuman tendencies then they can ask; where do you find the motivation and the energy to go against such tendencies likely to divide and destroy fraternal life? It’s by the manner we deal with such tendencies that we can announce that we are a community in the name of Jesus.
Hence, it’s not just because you had your marriage blessed in Church that you should force yourself to project an image of a perfect couple when it’s not the reality of your life. We are really a community in the name of Jesus when we strive to live in such mutual and fraternal correction in order to come out of the experience of sin, strengthened and reconciled.
With which attitude?
You talk about mutual and fraternal correction? Ah! Easier said than practised! It’s always delicate. How will the other see me when I insert the finger in the wound of his life? Moreover, it’s not just about the erring member but also the attitude of the one who wants to help.
Do I want to use the fragility of the other to affirm I’m better than you? Do I take advantage of the sin of the other to give a moral lesson and turn the other into a black sheep?
The first reading perhaps gives us some idea. The prophet Ezekiel is called to be sentinel of his brothers and sisters. He should always watch in order to be able to warn them should he see enemies approaching. It’s all about concern for the wellbeing others. The sentinel is also on the lookout for dawn, that is, for signs of hope. I guess that’s the role Jesus expects us to play in our communities as Christians –beacons of life and hope.
Indeed, at times that will require us to be firm, frank and courageous and yet if we are inspired by love for the other –our community will come out stronger, more fraternal and reconciled. That’s why St Augustine says, love and do whatever you like. But if our relationship with others is motivated by something less than love, we risk doing more harm than good in our correction.
What can I do about him, about her?
The word we hear is meant to help us live better with others. So, we can’t escape the question, personally: what am I going do now about that erring brother, that erring sister of mine?
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