23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)
Fraternal correction in the community
1. Opening prayer
b) A division of the text to help with the reading:
Matthew 18:15-16: Correcting the brother or sister and re-establishing unity
b) A key to the reading
- Matthew’s Gospel organises the words of Jesus into five great Sermons or Discourses. This shows that at the end of the first century, the time of the final edition of Matthew’s Gospel, the Christian communities had already taken on concrete forms of catechesis. The five Discourses were five great markers showing the way on the journey. They offered concrete criteria to teach people and help them solve problems. The Sermon on the Community (Mt 18:1-35), for instance, gives instructions as to how the members of the community should live together so that the community may be a revelation of the Kingdom of God.
c) The text:
15 'If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. 16 If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge. 17 But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector. 18 'In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 'In truth I tell you once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.'
3. A moment of prayerful silence
so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) Which part of the text struck you most? Why?
5. For those who wish to go deeper into the text
a) The context of our text in Matthew’s Gospel:
In organising the words of Jesus into five great sermons or discourses, Matthew’s Gospel imitates the five books of the Pentateuch and presents the Good News of the Kingdom as a New Law. This Sunday’s liturgy challenges us with the New Law that teaches fraternal correction within the community and our attitude towards those who exclude themselves from the community.
b) A commentary on the text:
Matthew 18:15-16: Correcting the brother and sister and rebuilding unity.
Matthew 18:17: Anyone who does not listen to the community cuts him/herself off
Matthew 18:18: Decisions made on earth are accepted in heaven
Matthew 18:19: Prayer in common for the brother or sister who has left the community
Matthew 18:20: Jesus’ presence within the community
c) A deepening:
- The community as alternative space of solidarity and fraternity:
Today’s neo-liberal society, marked by consumerism, is hard and heartless. It does not welcome the poor, the little ones, strangers and refugees. Money has no place for mercy. The society of the Roman Empire also was hard and heartless, with no room for the little ones. They sought a refuge for their hearts but found none. The synagogues too were demanding and did not offer them a place of rest. In the Christian communities, there were those who wished to introduce the rigour of the Pharisees in the observance of the Law. They brought into the fraternity the same unjust criteria of society and the synagogue. Thus within the communities there arose the same divisions as those in society and the synagogue between Jew and non Jew, rich and poor, rulers and ruled, word and silence, man and woman, race and religion. And instead of making the community a place of welcome, it became a place of judgement. Recalling the words of Jesus in the Discourse on the Community, Matthew wants to shed light on the journey of the Christian so that the community may be an alternative space of solidarity and fraternity. It must be Good News for the poor.
- Excommunication and exclusion from fraternal life:
Jesus does not wish to add to the exclusion. Rather, he wishes to promote inclusion. He did this all his life: He welcomed and reintegrated people who, in the name of a false idea of God, were excluded from the community. But he could not prevent that a person who disagreed with the Good News of the Kingdom would refuse to belong to the community and exclude him/herself from the community. This is what some Pharisees and doctors of the law did. Even then, the community must behave like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. It must hold the brother or sister in its heart and pray for him/her so that he/she may change his/her mind and come back to the community.
6. Prayer: Psalm 32
Free admission of sin
How blessed are those whose offence is forgiven,
I said not a word, but my bones wasted away
I made my sin known to you,
That is why each of your faithful ones
I shall instruct you and teach you the way to go;
Countless troubles are in store for the wicked,
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
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