23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: September 6, 2020

What is this binding and loosing all about?

Today’s gospel passage as well as the entire Chapter 18 of Matthew’s gospel is about a new community of Jesus’ followers, in mid to late first century trying to establish some rules for good order and for reconciliation among themselves.

We’re not talking about a 21st century code of canon law but about how to live together and to help each other live out the vision for a new humanity, for a new coming together and living together as genuine followers of Jesus.

The early Jewish followers of Jesus had been excommunicated from Jewish life and from the Temple.  They could not use the old traditions and ways of doing things, so they had to find a new way to live the Spirit of Jesus.

Just because they had been touched by Jesus’ death and resurrection, they were still human beings with many human impulses that needed control, discipline, and divine transformation.

Since the majority of Catholics do not read the Bible to study it, most Catholics have no idea of the historical context of various passages that we hear on a Sunday morning.

I would encourage you to do some homework this week by reading the entire 18th chapter so that you might begin to understand “the new rules of order” for a genuine Christ community (or parish) as the last sentence of today’s passage reiterates: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.  How do we do that– to remain gathered in Jesus’ name?

The Church is not really a church unless there is an experienced “togetherness” of mind and heart, Jesus’ mind and heart.

The Church is more than a lodge or an association of persons.  Chapter 18 contains 7 suggestions, rules of thumb to go by, for settling all disputes and conflicts.

Where do we begin?  

Let’s start with the Prophet Ezekiel whom God reminded that he served God in the special role as a “watchman for the house of Israel.”  There is an ancient piece of advice from the Chinese Confucius, philosopher and politician, 500 years before Jesus: “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”  Such a piece of advice may contribute to a peaceful life, but not be involved, not to care, not to take personal responsibility?? You can’t get further away from the spirit of God or the mind and heart of Jesus.  We are responsible for seeking the truth, for speaking the truth, and for calling others to responsibility for their words and actions.

As a follower of Jesus, we are people of hope.  We need to recognize evil for what it is, to recognize our integrity and to act on it.  By speaking “truth,” we reveal an alternative of action and direction.  God says that He will hold us responsible for the death of anyone — (meaning more than a physical death.  We have been appointed “watchmen” for our own homes and for our society.  Rise up Watchmen and “do” your role!

St. Paul’s letter to the Romans offers a profound rule for community life: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”  That is how we are going to get through life, and that is how we are going to get to heaven.

The communities or first churches that St. Paul founded had to make rules and give suggestions about how to do that.  He tells us today that it is more than keeping commandments or religious rules.  He reminds us as Jesus did that everything is summed in the words: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We have the expression that “the devil is in the details.”  As in the first century, so in ours, it is the details that reveal the heart of who we are.  More than going to Church is “being Church.” This means that we acknowledge everyone as children of God, that we are connected together — that all lives matter, all people matter.  The devil is in the concrete style of life that we live, not in a verbal profession of some doctrine or ritual or label.

What do we want to loose on earth?

Words and actions that call each other to life, that promote forgiveness, mercy, compassion, understanding, wisdom, creativity, and justice — this is the religion and spirituality of Jesus.

Remember the “devil is in the details.”  The devil is in the hardened concrete of a myopic life.

What does it mean to bind on earth?

Figuring out the details, taking care of the details, being part of the details.  To work at always being “gathered together in the name of Jesus.”  We will know when Jesus is living among us, when there will no longer be a devil because we are doing the details.

In conclusion, three pandemics have brought us to the crossroads of life at this first part of the 21st century:  the environmental crisis, the institutionalization of racism in our country and the Covid 19 pandemic.  

I  believe that God is letting us experience the growing catastrophe that we have created from what Pope Francis calls “our superfluous and destructive goals and activities.”

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