SFX Bulletin, 7 September 2014: The gospel today is taken from a section of Matthew often called the “Ecclesial” or “Church” Discourse. The word “church” is used only two times in the gospels (Mt.16:18; Mt.18:17) and in both instances, refer to the authority Jesus gives to “bind and loose”. This authority, as the Catechism tells us, refers to “the authority to absolve sins, to pronounce doctrinal judgements, and to make disciplinary decisions in the Church” (CCC553). It is an authority exercised with divine guidance as Jesus assured, “where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them” (v.20).
In today’s gospel, Jesus guides his disciples on how this “binding and loosing” is to reflect the Father’s merciful love and become an example of firm yet compassionate correction for all believers to follow. It is a four-stepped approach aimed at every point to remind the errant believer of his God-given dignity. In the initial instance, he must be approached in private, “go and have it out with him alone”. If this fails, then, “take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge”. If this is also unsuccessful, “report it to the community (or “ekklesia”/church). And finally, should even so much persuasion fail to turn the person around, he or she must be warned that his persistence to live in sin means he is no longer in one mind or communion with the believing community, “treat him like a pagan or a tax collector” – the imagery commonly used in Jesus’ time to refer to those who are unashamed of their sinful or immoral lives (v.15-17).
At the heart of each of these approaches is to “win back” (cf. v.15) or bring to conversion, the one who is going astray. It calls to mind the Sacrament of Reconciliation wherein God forgives us everytime we repent of our sins – even when our own weaknesses cause us to commit the same sins many times over before we finally rid ourselves of them with the help of the Holy Spirit.
However, many of us today have lost this sense of fraternal correction which God expects of all of his baptised because He has “appointed us as sentry” to warn each other that sin leads to death (cf. Ez. 33:7-9). Unpleasant as this may be in today’s social climate of relativism, our Holy Father warned in Evangelii Gaudium, against pleasantry as an excuse for not helping each other grow more rooted in Christ. He called it a “spirituality of well-being”, “…the Christian faith…entail a personal relationship, not with vague spiritual energies or powers, but with God, with Christ, with Mary, with the saints…We see a growing attraction to various forms of a ‘spirituality of well-being’ divorced from any community life, or to a ‘theology of prosperity’ detached from responsibility for our brothers and sisters …(they) are nothing more than a form of self-centredness” (EG 90).
He also warned against the other extreme of “spiritual worldliness” – an “adulterated form of Christianity”, “Spiritual worldliness hides behind the appearance of piety and even love for the Church… A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyses and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying”. These attitudes do not help us grow as a Christ-centred community, “In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others…” (EG 93-95).
Our Holy Father is being a “sentry” by urging us to be true Christians. Let us heed his warning and seek Reconciliation for sins committed either by thought, word, deed or omission (cf. CCC1853). We have been reconciled to God by Jesus’ crucifixion but “to receive his mercy, we must admit our faults...If we confess our sins, he will forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (cf. CCC1847). May we praise His merciful love and humbly seek it in Confession.