The webpage of the Youth Ministry of the Irish Province of Augustinians

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: 7th September 2014

There is a very clear thread that runs through the three of today’s readings. Even the psalm, in fact, points to the same thing – community.

In the Bible the importance of community, time and again, is made very evident – and for all sorts of reasons. Israel was a small people in the midst of many larger and also very aggressive other peoples; they needed to remain united. Living in a harsh climate where agriculture was not easy, community was necessary even for survival. And, most importantly, God had chosen Israel as a people – not as a collection of individuals; from the very beginning it is very clear to the writers of the Bible that relationships are at the heart of any understanding of God – relationships with one another, and relationships with God. Just look at today’s first reading where it is clear that for Ezekiel his relationship with the Lord is determined by the quality of his relationship with those around him.
In the second reading Paul gives us the same message – all of the commandments are summed up in one: Love your neighbour. In other words, if you want to sustain your relationship with God you must work on your relationship with those around you. This is not a message that Jesus came up with – the command to love your neighbour goes right back to the book of Leviticus and is one of the main pillars of the Mosaic Law. When Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan with its conclusion that we are to love our neighbour he is echoing something that had been familiar to his hearers from centuries before – if you think you can have a relationship with God without first addressing your relationships with other people, then think again.
The gospel reading we have just heard reminds us of the same things. Jesus goes to some trouble to make it clear that when there is a difficulty in the community it must be sorted out – and the important thing is never going to be the problem but the person. He explains that when the situation proves to be intractable we should treat the person like a pagan or a tax collector – which, when you think of it, is not exactly the worst of possible fates given the way that Jesus went out of his way to treat those particular groups of people.
But the high point in today’s readings about the importance of community comes at the end of the gospel reading. These words from chapter 18 of Matthew echo the very similar words of chapter 16 about binding and loosing – they are very similar, but they are not the same. In chapter 16 it was clear that the power to bind or loose was being given to Peter; here, and this has not received enough attention, the power is being given to the community. 
What is being said is very significant. Matthew’s community was composed of people who had been Jews. They were accustomed to observing the 613 laws of the Torah – failure to observe them would have placed the individual outside of the community. Now Jesus says that the community must decide – in other words, continually review – how its members should live together.
Not only will God hear the prayers of such communities, but the risen Jesus himself is to be found in their midst: “For where two or three meet in my name. I shall be there with them”.
All of these things were pretty much self-evident to the biblical mind. In our time community is probably not as straightforward. We live in the era of the headphones, the earphones, the tablet and the smart phone – all of which, while certainly wonderful because of what they offer us, also distract our attention from one another. It is now sometimes easier to be in contact with people who are far away than with those with whom we are living in more close contact. This means that we cannot presume things about community that we once could. It also means that community, in our society, is probably going to take quite a bit more effort than it did in biblical times. 
Today’s readings remind us that our relationships with one another are the basic building blocks of our relationship with God. Without nurturing these relationships our relationship with God will be more difficult – if not even impossible. Relationships, as we all know, take a lot of work but, and we all know this too, if we are prepared to put in the effort; to work through the difficulties; to do our best to strengthen the relationship; then we can, with a bit of luck, build something that will sustain and nourish us.
I think there is a call here to remind us of ourselves; to remind us of one another. In the middle of all the business of life it can be hard to find signs of God’s presence. Today’s readings point us towards one another if we want to find those signs; and the more we find the signs the more we will have confidence that when two or three of us meet together, the risen Jesus is in our midst.

Article posted on 6th of September 2014

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