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Gospel for Sunday, September 6

XXIII SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Misericordie, I am Carlo Miglietta, doctor, biblical scholar, layman, husband, father and grandfather (www.buonabibbiaatutti.it).

Also today I share with you a short meditation thought on the Gospel, with special reference to the theme of mercy.

Readings: Ez 33,7-9; Rom 13.8-10; Mt 18,15-20

From: C. MIGLIETTA, I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH. Why (and how) to be Church according to the Bible, Gribaudi, Milan, 2010, with presentation by H. E. Mons. Guido Fiandino

“Tell it to the Church” (Mt 18.15)

The second passage of the Gospel of Matthew in which the term “ekklesìa” appears is chapter 18:

“If your brother commits a fault, go and admonish him between you and him alone; if he listens to you, you will have gained your brother; if he will not listen to you, take one or two people with you, so that everything can be resolved on the word of two or three witnesses. If he does not listen to these either, tell the assembly; and if he will not even listen to the assembly, let him be to you like a pagan and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Truly I say to you again: if two of you on earth agree to ask for anything, my Father who is in heaven will give it to you. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them” (Mt 18:15-20).

In this text it is probably a public sin, even if some manuscripts add to verse 15: “If your brother commits a sin against you”, perhaps to harmonize with the following verse 21 of the same chapter, in which Peter will ask: “Lord, how many times will I have to forgive my brother if he sins against me? Up to seven times?” (Mt 18.21).

The theme of the song is how to deal with brothers who sin to bring them back to the right path. The verb “gain” (“kerdaìno”: “If he listens to you, you will have gained your brother”: Mt 18.15) is a specific term to indicate conversion. The passage just had as its premise the parable of the lost sheep, which the Shepherd searches for at the cost of abandoning the other ninety-nine in the fold, and ended with the statement: “So your heavenly Father does not want even one to get lost.” only of these little ones” (Mt 18,11-14). Already in Ezekiel God had said: “I do not rejoice in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked desist from his ways and live by him” (Ez 33,11).

Even in the Old Testament there were rules on how to behave towards those who make mistakes: “You shall not harbor hatred in your heart against your brother; correct your neighbor openly, so you will not burden yourself with a sin for him. You shall not take revenge or bear a grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord” (Lev 19,17-18). It is therefore necessary to “correct” the brother: the same verb “correct”, “elèncho”, is used in the Greek version of Leviticus and in Matthew. And this fraternal correction is a concrete way to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev 19.8; Mt 19.19).

Verses 15-18 of chapter 18 outline a canonical discipline in three stages, which follows the order in use at Qumram[1]. First of all, personal admonition “between you and him alone” must be practiced. Then the correction must be made in front of two or three witnesses: this is probably the testimonial practice stated in the book of Deuteronomy: “A single witness will have no value against anyone, for any fault or for any sin; whatever sin he has committed, the fact must be established on the word of two or three witnesses” (Dt 19,15). This shows how the community to which Matthew writes was structured according to Jewish legislation[2].

a) The local Church

If the sinner refuses the correction of an individual or some brothers, he should be brought before the “ekklesìa”: most Bibles translate the two times in which “ekklesìa” appears in verse 15 as “assembly”, as they also did the previous CEI version, or as “community”, as the latest CEI translation does. In fact, the term here seems to refer to the local group, and not to the entirety of the Lord’s disciples. In this sense the meaning of “ekklesìa” here would correspond not so much to the Jewish “qahal”, but rather to the “‘edàh”, to the synagogue. It is therefore a question of the concept that we would express as “Local Church”.

If the sinner also refuses the admonition of the assembly, “let him be to you as a pagan and a tax collector”, that is, as a non-Jew or a bad Jew: the tax collectors, who collected taxes on behalf of the Romans, were considered traitors of the Judaism, because they collaborated with the occupying enemy. In other words, the community issues an “excommunication”, that is, it proclaims the individual out of communion with his brothers.

Da Spinetoli notes that this behavior “does not reflect the behavior of Jesus, friend of tax collectors and sinners[3], but is affected by separatism and Pharisaic and Qumranic puritanism. It is not even too in tune with the parable of forgiveness for all[4] which will be stated shortly”[5].

In any case, the local Church is “charged with connotations of a transcendent and eschatological sense” (M. Nobile[6]).

b) The power of the community

It is interesting to note how the power to “bind and loose” which two chapters earlier had been conferred on Peter[7] is here instead given to the whole community. Some have thought that the Petrine power was extended to all Christians after the departure of the apostle or after his death, and that in any case this extension to the entire community is a subsequent theological elaboration compared to an initial individual conferral . But in the Gospel of John the Risen Jesus gives this power to all the disciples: “The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again: <>. After saying this, he breathed on them and said: <> ”(Jn 20,20-23). Here there is a reversal of the order: no longer “binding and untying”, but “untying and binding”. The first task of the Church will not be to excommunicate, to cut off, but to announce God’s mercy and his forgiveness.

The Church as a whole remembers having had the same power from the Lord that Peter individually had received. In any case, the power to forgive sins which, during his earthly life, belonged only to Jesus, is now transmitted to the community of disciples.

Finally, it is remembered that prayer made in common is always answered. The text says that if two “sumphonèsosin”, “make a symphony” (Mt 18,19), God will listen to them: generally the Bibles then translate “pantòs pràgmatos” as if to ask for “everything”, but Mello notes that it should be translated ” <>, where “affair” (<<pràgma>>) is a technical term for controversy within the community[8]. We are therefore sent back, without a shadow of a doubt, to the previous <>. To resolve it, the most effective expedient is common prayer”[9].

c) The local Church, place of Jesus’ presence

The passage ends with a verse that underlines how the following of the Lord is not an individual fact, but a community one: where two or three “sunegmènoi”, that is, “form a synagogue”, “are gathered” in the name of the Lord, he is present in among them[10].

The reference to the presence of Jesus immediately launches the thought to deeper dimensions of the Church, immediately opening it to the mysterious aspect of which Paul speaks. The Church is what Jesus called “my Church” (Mt 16:18). The Rabbis stated that the “Shekinah”, the Presence of God, dwells among those who gathered to meditate on the Torah, the Law. Rabbi Aquiba, who died in 135, said: “If two people come together to pronounce the words of the Law, the Shekinah is between them”[11]. Now it is stated that the Lord himself is present when his community gathers. The Church, even a local one, of a few people, is the place and the sacrament for the world of the very presence of God. It is truly, despite its weakness and its sins, the new Temple of God.

[1] 1 QS 5.26-6.1

[2] The Bible, Way, Truth and Life. New official version of the Italian Episcopal Conference, San Paolo. Cinisello Balsamo (MI), 2009, pg. 2090

[3] Mt 9.11

[4] Mt 18,21-35

[5] From Spinetoli O., Matteo, Cittadella, Assisi, 1993, pg. 504

[6] Nobile M., Biblical Ecclesiology, Dehoniane, Bologna, 1996, pg. 34

[7] Mt 16,13-19

[8] 1 Cor 6:1

[9] Mello A., Gospel according to Matthew, Qiqajon, Bose, Magnano (BI), 1995, pg. 327

[10] Mt 18.20

[11] Pirqei Avot 3, 6. Cf. D. Flusser, “I am among them (Mt 18,20)”, in Judaism and the origins of Christianity, Genoa 1995, pp. 163-174.

Happy Mercy to all!

Anyone who would like to read a more complete exegesis of the text, or some insights, please ask me at migliettacarlo@gmail.com.

Source

Spazio Spadoni

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