Lectio Divina: Matthew 18:15-20
1) Opening prayer
Almighty and ever-living God,
Your Spirit made us Your children,
confident to call You Father.
Increase Your Spirit within us
and bring us to our promised inheritance.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
2) Gospel Reading - Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church. If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
• In the Gospel of today and of tomorrow we read and meditate on the second half of the Discourse on the Community. Today’s Gospel speaks about fraternal correction (Mt 18:15-18) and of prayer in common (Mt 18:19-20). The Gospel of tomorrow speaks about pardon (Mt 18:21-22) and presents the parable of pardon without limitations (Mt 18:23-35). The key word in this second part is “to forgive”. The accent is on reconciliation. In order that there may be reconciliation which will allow the little ones to return, it is important to know how to dialogue and to forgive, because the foundation of fraternity is the gratuitous love of God. It is only in this way that the community will be a sign of the Kingdom. It is not easy to forgive. There is a certain grief which continues to strike the heart as with a hammer. There are those who say, “I forgive, but I do not forget!” There is resentment, tensions, clashes, diverse opinions, and offenses, provocations which render pardon and reconciliation difficult.
• The organization of the words of Jesus in the five Great Discourses of the Gospel of Matthew indicates that at the end of the first century, the communities had very concrete forms of catechesis. The Discourse of the Community (Mt 18:1-35), for example, gives updated instructions of how to proceed in case of any conflict among the members of the community and how to find criteria to solve the conflicts. Matthew gathers together those sayings of Jesus which can help the communities of the end of the first century to overcome the two more acute problems which they had to face at that moment, that is, the exodus of the little ones because of the scandal given by some and the need to dialogue in order to overcome the rigor of others in accepting the little ones, the poor, in the community.
• Matthew 18:15-18: Fraternal correction and the power to forgive. These verses give simple norms of how to proceed in case of conflicts in the community. If a brother or a sister should sin, if they had behavior not in accordance to the life of the community, they should not be denounced immediately. First, it is necessary to try to speak with them alone. Then it is necessary to try to know the reasons of the other. If no results are obtained, then it is necessary to take two or three persons of the community to see if it is possible to obtain some result. Only in extreme cases is it necessary to expose the problem to the whole community. If the person refuses to listen to the community, then they should be considered by you as “a sinner or a pagan”, that is, as someone who is not part of the community. Therefore, it is not you who excludes, but it is the person himself/herself who excludes himself/herself. The community gathered together only verifies or ratifies the exclusion. The grace to be able to forgive and to reconcile in the name of God was given to Peter (Mt 16:19), to the Apostles ( Jn 20: 23) and, here in the Discourse on the Community, to the community itself (Mt 18:18). This reveals the importance of the decisions which the community assumes in regard to its members.
• Matthew 18:19: Prayer in common. The exclusion does not mean that the person is abandoned to his/her own fate. No! The person may be separated from the community, but will never be separated from God. In the case in which the conversation in the community does not produce any result, and the person does not want to be integrated in the life of the community, there still remains the last possibility to remain together with the Father to obtain reconciliation, and Jesus guarantees that the Father will listen: “If two of you agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by My Father in Heaven; for where two or three meet in My Name, I am there among them”.
• Matthew 18:20: The presence of Jesus in the community. The reason of the certainty of being heard by the Father is the promise of Jesus: “Because where there are two or three who meet in My name, I am there among them!” Jesus is the center, the axis, of the community, and, as such, together with the community, will always be praying with us to the Father, in order that He may grant the gift of the return of the brother or the sister who have excluded themselves.
4) Personal questions
• Why is it so difficult to forgive? In our community, is there some space for reconciliation? In which way?
• Jesus says: "For wherever there are two or three who meet in My Name, I am also there among them”. What does this mean for us today?
• What is the balance between forgiveness and the protection of others which we have responsibility for? Both as individuals and as a society or community, what does it mean to forgive, forget, and still protect the vulnerable?
5) Concluding Prayer
Praise, servants of Yahweh,
praise the name of Yahweh.
Blessed be the name of Yahweh,
henceforth and for ever. (Ps 113:1-2)