“He proved that neither unity nor peace could be kept unless the brethren treat one another with mutual forbearance, and preserve the bond of concord through patience.” – St. Cyprian
Matthew 18:15-20: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, is between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. 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 pagan or a tax collector. I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven. ‘I tell you solemnly 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. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.”
Christ the Lord We come once again upon Christ instructing his Twelve as the end of his earthly mission draws near. He is preparing them to govern his Church. Critics accuse St Matthew of misquoting Jesus in this passage, since he references a Church organization that would not have existed until well after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. But if Christ knew of his coming passion and resurrection, would he not have known of his future Church and be able to refer to it? The context (Jesus instructing his Twelve) and the meaning (that every effort should be made to reconcile recalcitrant Christians with God and with the Church) of the passage, in any case, cohere perfectly with St Matthew’s whole series of instructions to the apostles. Likewise, the first generations of Christians never disputed Christ’s intention to build the Church upon the “foundation of the apostles” (Ephesians 2:20). Clearly, Jesus knew that the time of his earthly Lordship was ending, and he expressly transferred his authority to those he had chosen. The Church was the willed invention of Christ the Lord, not the other way around.
Christ the Teacher We must do everything we possibly can to bring one another back when we stray. We must hold each other accountable – not by arrogantly judging our brothers and sisters (we can hardly see the speck in their eyes for the plank in our own, remember), but by reaching out to them when they are in trouble. This passage follows Christ’s parable of the good shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep alone in order to seek out the one who has strayed. Christ is insisting here that his ministers have the same selfless and determined attitude.
The leader of the Christian community is traditionally called a pastor, which comes from the Latin word for shepherd. Bishops are pastors of their diocese; priests are pastors of their parishes; all Christians, in a sense, are pastors of those souls entrusted to their spiritual or physical care. With this instruction, Jesus is enjoining each of us (but especially his ordained ministers, those who will carry on the ministry of his Twelve Apostles) to give everyone the attention they need, to go after the wandering sheep, and to do everything possible to bring them back into the safety of his fold.
Christ the Friend Friends like to be together. Christ likes to be with us. When we “gather in his name” (especially as a whole community in the Sunday celebration of the Eucharist, but also in less official ways), he gathers with us. When we offer our prayers as members of the one family of God, he joins his own voice to ours, insuring that they will please the Father and win his favor. The Christian community is unique; it is not based merely on common goals, hobbies, or preferences. Instead, it is a real but mystical unity brought about by Christ’s own presence among us. For this reason, a Catholic community (especially the parish) will always include all types – young and old, fervent and apathetic, pleasant and crotchety, ignorant and learned, rich and poor. As one reluctant member put it, the Catholic Church can be defined as “Here comes everybody!” That’s because Christ is a faithful friend to each of us; he plays no favorites… and neither should we.
Christ in My Life You never envisioned any of your followers going it alone. You chose your first disciples and built them into a community. Now, centuries later, that community still exists; it’s still growing and thriving, in spite of continuous attacks. I am glad to be a member of your Church, Lord. I don’t want to give into the temptation to be a loner. I want to be a Christian, now and forever, securely incorporated into your mystical body…
I have so many things on my to-do list, Lord, that sometimes I forget the most important thing: fidelity to my Christian mission of being another Christ. Your first priority was bringing people back into communion with God, showing them the Father’s love, and teaching them the way to fullness of life. Make me more aware of other’s needs – physical, emotional, and spiritual. Love them, Lord, through me…
At times, I can get a little frustrated with the humanity of your Church. But you never do. Teach me rather to see the Church as you see it. Teach me to forgive, make excuses for, and help all my brothers and sisters, not just the ones I naturally get along with. Help me to care for and love my pastors in concrete ways. Teach me to welcome them, as you always welcome me…
PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.
Art for this post on Matthew 18:15-20: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. The Good Shepherd, unknown painter – probably Mihály Mankovics, late 18th century, Greek Catholic Cathedral of Hajdúdorog, Hungary, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported, Wikimedia Commons.