This weekend we remember in a special way all those who are affected by Harvey and Irma the Hurricanes in the Caribbean. I have a nephew who is presently in Cuba wondering what he is going to do and he tells me though they are well prepared they are still expecting the worst!
In our Gospel passage for this Sunday St Matthew recounts Jesus’ instructions to the disciples about how they should deal with a brother who does something wrong. This same instruction applies to us and our dealings with other people in the here and now of today. This passage is very different from those of the two previous Sundays. They were dramatic stories, marked by deep emotions and with deep implications for the characters involved. This is a little gem of a passage but with little drama, a very practical, common-sense teaching on that most common and most prosaic of community problems conflict. It is a great wisdom teaching which continues to be valid for us in our own time.
Today management of time and people has become a science, and Jesus’ teaching stands up well as a model of how to “manage” conflict in any situation. It is the duty of the disciple we are told to point out the error and even if our correction might not be well received. St Matthew wants to let the Christians in his community know how to deal with those who drift away from the teaching of Christ or blatantly contravene the commandments. Matthew chooses those words of Jesus which most stress the authority and the competence of the Christian community, the Church, to deal with these cases: Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven. However, there are some safeguards built into this teaching on reproving those who go astray. Jesus says that first of all you must have it out with him alone. This might lead to a speedy solution and the person’s good name is preserved. Yet it seems from the gospel reading that the only sanction is that the person be excluded from the community of the Church.
All the practical advice in the Gospel centers on Christians taking responsibility for each other and even now that is what we are asked to do take responsibility for each other. Belonging to a community implies that we are involved in the life of its members. This is not a charter for the legion of the curious, but a procedure for a caring community to follow. It is a way of handling wrongdoing and hurt. For many people have done wrong and many are hurting for so many reasons and this Gospel reading calls us to be there for all those who have done wrong and for all those who are hurting. It is a call for us to show the people who are around us that the way of Jesus is the right road to follow.