Deacon Cornell's Homily


Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20


September 9-10, 2017, Twenty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

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

If you google "most misused bible verses" , that last verse of today's Gospel reading makes the the top 5 in dozens of posts. The way I have heard it misused is typically as an invitation to prayer or part of an opening prayer in a small group such as bible study group or staff meeting. It is used to convey that somehow this small gathering in Jesus' name enjoys the special presence of Jesus in their midst, or at it's worst, that by gathering, the small group somehow summons Jesus to be present. As anyone who has listened to me preach over the years knows, I always try to situate any bible verse in its context. The quickest way to get into trouble with quoting the bible is to take a verse out of context.

There are often multiple layers of context that you need to understand in order to correctly interpret any particular passage. For all scripture there is the context of the whole of the bible. Taking from Genesis to Revelation we see revealed a number of foundational truths that no particular passage can contradict. We know that God created everything, that God is not just a loving God but God is love itself, and that everything in creation was created out of love, and has as its goal and purpose to participate in that loving relationship we call Trinity.

Before looking at the particular context of today's Gospel, we can look at that verse to see what it cannot be saying in the context of all of scripture. Does this version mean that Jesus is only present when two or three are gathered? Does this mean that when in obedience to Jesus's suggestion in another Gospel passage that I go into my room and pray silently to the Father that Jesus is NOT with me? What about when we gather by the hundred's like here at Mass, or even in the millions at World Youth Day? Of course it cannot mean that. It cannot even mean that Jesus is present differently in those situations. And it certainly cannot mean that by gathering we creatures somehow manipulate Christ into being present.

So what is the immediate context? This section of Matthew's Gospel, going back a few chapters to the gospel we heard two weeks ago when Jesus calls Simon the rock on which he will build the church, and says in words almost identical to those in today's reading that whatever the Church binds on earth is bound in heaven and whatever it loosens on earth is loosed in heaven, is all about the Church's role in the governance of Christ's people. As Father Paul explained two weeks ago in his homily, that binding and loosening is not about sacramental reconciliation, forgiving or not forgiving sin, but about the responsibility Christ has given to the Church for establishing rules and teachings that guide the Church. Today's passage is about how to handle a situation where one of the community has sinned against the community. The people listening to Jesus 2,000 years ago would have gotten this immediately because Jesus uses some key terms from Deuteronomy for how the Jewish community was to be governed. The two or three Jesus says to take along are not to serve as witnesses against the one who sinned but to establish that what is going on is an exercise of the Christ given authority of the Church to govern.

So what do we take away from today's Gospel. Hopefully something very important if we are to become missionary disciples, and that is that the Church does indeed have the protection of the Holy Spirit that guides its rules and teachings. This is so important here and now because it is unfortunately not a rare occurrence that families bring the child for baptism or couples preparing for marriage say to me something like, "Oh I don't believe everything that the Church teaches!" As if that statement makes any sense for someone who claims to be Catholic to say. Either we believe that Christ is God and has promised the protection of the Holy Spirit to the Church or we are not practicing Catholics.

I just want you to understand that I am not saying that you should immediately tell someone misusing that verse that they are wrong, or confronting someone who says they don't agree with a Church teaching. But in those cases where it was appropriate to continue the conversation I have never encountered anyone who said that they didn't agree with the Church on something, who either did not understand correctly what the Church teaches or why the Church teaches that particular truth or why the Church has that rule. What I am saying is that each one of us should make sure we know what the Church teaches and if we have trouble assenting to that, to seek out competent sources that can help us understand how this can be the work of the Holy Spirit.

When we fail to do this work, we sin against the 8th commandment because we bear false witness to the truth that has been revealed through the Spirit filled working of the Church. As Paul says, love does no evil to the neighbor, so I pray we all commit ourselves to this work of love.

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