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"Lectio divina is an authentic source of Christian spirituality recommended by our Rule. We therefore practice it every day, so that we may develop a deep and genuine love for it, and so that we may grow in the surpassing knowledge of Christ. In this way we shall put into practice the Apostle Paul’s commandment, which is mentioned in our Rule: “Let the sword of the spirit, the Word of God, live abundantly in your mouth and in your hearts; and whatever you must do, do it in the name of the Lord.”

 Carmelite Constitutions (No. 82)

Lectio Divina: 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Lectio Divina: 
Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fraternal correction in the community
Care of those who leave the community
Matthew 18:15-20

1. Opening prayer

Lord Jesus, send your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that you read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the Bible, you helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.

Create in us silence so that we may listen to your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples from Emmaus, may experience the force of your resurrection and witness to others that you are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of you, Jesus, son of Mary, who revealed to us the Father and sent us your Spirit. Amen.

2. Reading

a) A division of the text to help with the reading:

Matthew 18:15-16: Correcting the brother or sister and re-establishing unity
Matthew 18:17: Those who do not listen to the community cut themselves off
Matthew 18:18: Decisions made on earth are accepted in heaven
Matthew 18:19: Prayer in common for those who leave the community
Matthew 18:20: Jesus’ presence within the community

b) A key to the reading

- Matthew’s Gospel organises the words of Jesus into five great Sermons or Discourses. This shows that at the end of the first century, the time of the final edition of Matthew’s Gospel, the Christian communities had already taken on concrete forms of catechesis. The five Discourses were five great markers showing the way on the journey. They offered concrete criteria to teach people and help them solve problems. The Sermon on the Community (Mt 18:1-35), for instance, gives instructions as to how the members of the community should live together so that the community may be a revelation of the Kingdom of God.
- On this 23rd Sunday of ordinary time we shall read and meditate on the second part of the Sermon on the Community and we shall see closely two aspects: fraternal correction, that is how to proceed in case of conflict among the members of the community (18:15-18), and prayer in common: how to take care of those who have left the community (18:19-20).

Matthew 18:15-20

c) The text:

15 'If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. 16 If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: whatever the misdemeanour, the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain the charge. 17 But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a gentile or a tax collector. 18 'In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 'In truth I tell you once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.'

3. A moment of prayerful silence

so that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.

4. Some questions

to help us in our personal reflection.

a) Which part of the text struck you most? Why?
b) What advice does Jesus give us to help people solve the problems of the community and reconcile the members among themselves?
c) What is the basic requirement that comes out of Jesus’ advice?
d) In Mt 16:19, the power to forgive is given to Peter; in Jn 20:23, this same power is given to the apostles. Here, the power to forgive is given to the community. How does our community use this power to forgive given to us by Jesus?
e) Jesus said: "Where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them". What does this mean for us today?

5. For those who wish to go deeper into the text

a) The context of our text in Matthew’s Gospel:

In organising the words of Jesus into five great sermons or discourses, Matthew’s Gospel imitates the five books of the Pentateuch and presents the Good News of the Kingdom as a New Law. This Sunday’s liturgy challenges us with the New Law that teaches fraternal correction within the community and our attitude towards those who exclude themselves from the community.

b) A commentary on the text:

Matthew 18:15-16: Correcting the brother and sister and rebuilding unity.
Jesus gives simple and concrete norms to tell us how to proceed in case of conflict in the community. If a brother or sister sins, that is, behaves contrary to the life of the community, you must not denounce him/her publicly before the community. First you must speak to him/her alone. Try to find out why he/she acted in that way. If you get no result, then call two or three members of the community to see whether you can get some result.
Matthew writes his Gospel in around the 80’s or 90’s, almost at the end of the first century, for the community of converted Jews coming from Galilee and Syria. If he recalls so insistently these words of Jesus, it is because, in fact, in those communities there were great divisions concerning the acceptance of Jesus Messiah. Many families were divided and persecuted by their own parents who did not accept Jesus as Messiah (Mt 10:21.35-36).

Matthew 18:17: Anyone who does not listen to the community cuts him/herself off
In extreme cases and after trying everything possible, the reticent brother or sister has to be brought before the community. And if that person will not listen to the advice of the community, then he or she has to be considered “as a publican or pagan”, that is as a person not belonging to the community and who much less wishes to be part of the community. Thus you are not excluding anyone, but the person him/herself is excluding him/herself from the common life of the community.

Matthew 18:18: Decisions made on earth are accepted in heaven
In Mt 16:19, the power to forgive is given to Peter, in Jn 20:23, this same power is given to the apostles. Now, in this text, the power to forgive is given to the community: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven”. Here we see the importance of reconciliation and the enormous responsibility of the community in dealing with its members. The community does not excommunicate the person, but simply ratifies the exclusion that the person had already assumed publicly by leaving the community.

Matthew 18:19: Prayer in common for the brother or sister who has left the community
This exclusion does not mean that the person is abandoned to his or her fate. Rather, he or she may be separated from the community, but will not be separated from God. Thus, if talking to the community has not borne results and if the person no longer wishes to be part of the life of the community, we still have the obligation to pray together to the Father to achieve reconciliation. And Jesus guarantees that the Father will listen.

Matthew 18:20: Jesus’ presence within the community
The reason for the certainty of being heard is Jesus’ promise: “Where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them!” Jesus says that he is the centre, the axle of the community and, as such, prays to the Father together with the community that he may grant the gift of the return of the brother or sister who has left.

c) A deepening:

- The community as alternative space of solidarity and fraternity:

Today’s neo-liberal society, marked by consumerism, is hard and heartless. It does not welcome the poor, the little ones, strangers and refugees. Money has no place for mercy. The society of the Roman Empire also was hard and heartless, with no room for the little ones. They sought a refuge for their hearts but found none. The synagogues too were demanding and did not offer them a place of rest. In the Christian communities, there were those who wished to introduce the rigour of the Pharisees in the observance of the Law. They brought into the fraternity the same unjust criteria of society and the synagogue. Thus within the communities there arose the same divisions as those in society and the synagogue between Jew and non Jew, rich and poor, rulers and ruled, word and silence, man and woman, race and religion. And instead of making the community a place of welcome, it became a place of judgement. Recalling the words of Jesus in the Discourse on the Community, Matthew wants to shed light on the journey of the Christian so that the community may be an alternative space of solidarity and fraternity. It must be Good News for the poor.

- Excommunication and exclusion from fraternal life:

Jesus does not wish to add to the exclusion. Rather, he wishes to promote inclusion. He did this all his life: He welcomed and reintegrated people who, in the name of a false idea of God, were excluded from the community. But he could not prevent that a person who disagreed with the Good News of the Kingdom would refuse to belong to the community and exclude him/herself from the community. This is what some Pharisees and doctors of the law did. Even then, the community must behave like the Father in the parable of the Prodigal Son. It must hold the brother or sister in its heart and pray for him/her so that he/she may change his/her mind and come back to the community.

6. Prayer: Psalm 32

Free admission of sin

How blessed are those whose offence is forgiven,
whose sin blotted out.
How blessed are those to whom Yahweh imputes no guilt,
whose spirit harbours no deceit.

I said not a word, but my bones wasted away
from groaning all the day;
day and night your hand lay heavy upon me;
my heart grew parched as stubble in summer drought.

I made my sin known to you,
did not conceal my guilt.
I said, 'I shall confess my offence to Yahweh.'
And you, for your part, took away my guilt,
forgave my sin.

That is why each of your faithful ones
prays to you in time of distress.
Even if great floods overflow,
they will never reach your faithful.
You are a refuge for me,
you guard me in trouble,
with songs of deliverance you surround me.

I shall instruct you and teach you the way to go;
I shall not take my eyes off you.
Be not like a horse or a mule;
that does not understand bridle or bit;
if you advance to master them,
there is no means of bringing them near.

Countless troubles are in store for the wicked,
but one who trusts in Yahweh is enfolded in his faithful love.
Rejoice in Yahweh, exult all you upright,
shout for joy, you honest of heart.

7. Final Prayer

Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practise the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister." 


date | by Dr. Radut