23rd Sunday (A)

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”

Gather in Jesus’ name and work miraclesToday’s Gospel reminds us of the good we can do together, and of how we can do it. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If any group of us will gather, work, and act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we become much more than simply the sum of our numbers. Two becomes more than two, and three becomes more than three. The sum of our individual ideas, resources and abilities becomes much more because of the synergy that God’s presence provides. In our Faith community, we act together so that we may help one another in God’s Name, thereby multiplying our resources and ability to do what God calls us to do. Jesus makes it clear how important we are, one to another. Through our links to one another in Christ, there is a capacity in our community, which enables us to use God’s power to make healing and life-giving love more effective among His people. We come together, we stay together, we work together – in our Lord’s name, bringing to focus the presence of God and unleashing the power of the Spirit to transform our lives and the lives of all God’s children.     We do gather in Jesus’ name and invoke his presence, and that opens our hearts to allow him to be a part of us and of what we do. That is what we experience at each Eucharist—we in him and he in us.

Our inability to perceive and translate it into our lives has led to hatred and hatred has led to violence, which has eventually resulted in killing and destruction of so many precious lives. Today individuals are broken and as a result the families and societies at large face the consequences of this brokenness. Today’s psalm response mentions the hardness of heart, which we might describe as racial or ethnic hostility, religious animosity, social prejudices and injustices, gender inequality, corporate greed, political extremism, ecological indifference, relationship abuses, the mentality of entitlement, etc. It is precisely for this reason the gospel emphasizes the need for reconciliation in individuals, which will have a positive effect on the society. The gospel is the message of love, peace and joy to be lived so that we become messengers of the good news around us.

Gospel deals with the relationship of members of the Church to each other and highlights one of the most painful responsibilities that we have towards others, namely fraternal correction. Matthew expands a saying of Jesus, originally concerned primarily with forgiveness, into a four-step procedure for disciplining members in the new eschatological Community of the Church. Jesus instructed his disciples about relationships among members of the Church, because through Baptism we assume a serious responsibility for our fellow-believers. Suppose a son or daughter, friend or acquaintance, relative, neighbor, even parent or teacher, does “something wrong” to us, whether the sin is of commission or omission. By outlining a four-step process of confrontation, negotiation, adjudication and excommunication, Jesus tells us how to deal with and finally mend a broken relationship within the Christian fellowship.

There was a famous monastery, which had fallen on hard times. Formerly its many buildings were filled with the singing of the chant, but now it was nearly deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer. A handful of old monks shuffled though the cloisters and praised their God with heavy hearts.

On the edge of the monastery woods, an old rabbi had built a little hut. He would come there from time to time to fast and pray. No one spoke with him, but wherever he appeared, the word would be passed from monk to monk: “The rabbi walks in the woods.” And for as long as he was there, the monks would feel sustained by his prayerful presence.

One day the abbot decided to visit the rabbi and to open his heart to him. So after the morning Eucharist, he set out through the woods. As he approached the hut the abbot saw the rabbi standing in the doorway, his arms outstretched in welcome. It was as though he had been waiting there for some time. The two embraced like long lost brothers. Then they stepped back and just stood there, smiling at one another with smiles their faces could hardly contain.

After a while the rabbi motioned the abbot to enter. In the middle of the room was a wooden table with the scripture open on it. They sat there for a moment in the presence of the book. Then the rabbi began to cry. The abbot could not contain himself. He covered his face with his hand and began to cry, too. For the first time in his life, he cried his heart out. The two men sat there like lost children, filling the hut with their sobs and wetting the wood of the table with their tears.

After the tears had ceased to flow and all was quiet again, the rabbi lifted his head. “You and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts,” he said. “You have come to ask a teaching of me. I will give you this teaching, but you can only repeat it once. After that, no one must say it aloud again.” The rabbi looked straight at the abbot and said, “The messiah is among you.” For a while, all was silent. Then the rabbi said, “Now you must go.” The abbot left without a word and without ever looking back.

The next morning, the abbot called his monks together in the chapter room. He told them he had received a teaching from “the rabbi who walks in the woods” and that this teaching was never again to be spoken aloud. Then he looked at each of his brothers and said, “The rabbi said that one of us is the messiah!” and the monks were startled by this. “What could it mean?” they asked themselves. “Is brother John the messiah or Father Mathew or brother Thomas? Am I the messiah? What could it mean?” They were all deeply puzzled by the rabbi’s teaching. But no one ever mentioned it again.

As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence. There was a gentle, wholehearted, human quality about them now which was hard to describe but easy to notice. They lived with one another men who had finally found something. But they prayed the scriptures together as men who were always looking for something. Occasional visitors found themselves deeply moved by the life of these monks. Before long, people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life of the monks, while young men were asking, once again, to become part of the community.

St. Paul in his writing to the Romans exhorts them to Love one another. That fulfills the law.” If God is not known and loved, there can be no basis or motive for true love of neighbor. It is only the presence of God in each human being and the recognition of others as God’s children that can form a sound basis for the love of our neighbors.  In short, love is the basis of the law, and we fulfill the law by loving our neighbor. Paul reminds us that love requires that we should watch out for one another’s souls, and love specifies the manner in which our watchful care of one another should be conducted.