I find this a very difficult gospel on which to preach. Maybe we could start with the last words of today’s gospel.
“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” Where two or three are gathered together there is bound to be differences of opinion, different ways of looking at things, personality conflicts, hurt feelings, and jealousy. Where two or three are gathered together anything can happen. Isn’t there a saying that if you get two rabbis together you will end up with three opinions.
One way we can take this promise of Jesus, “where two or three are gathered in my name I am there among them” is that, He will be there in that gathering challenging us to be what they claim to be – Christians – for we are there in His name. Christ will challenge us to respect one another, love one another, support one another, and if circumstances call for it, confront one another. There is such a thing as false charity, false love. There can be time when we know someone is doing or saying something harmful to themselves or another, yet we keep silent. We back off an ‘intervention’, we do not speak to warn another of the serious harm they are doing, to themselves or someone else.
Years ago I was with my brother John in Myrtle Beach. Like me, he had great devotion to our Lady of the Links. We were getting on an elevator and caught the end of a conversation of three southern bells. One lady said to her friends, “Of course that’s the way I feel in my heart, I’d never say it to her face.” That’s really not Christian charity, in fact if it was a serious matter this good lady was failing her friend.
Again in my distant past I was friends with a young couple who eventually married. But they had a great falling out. She wrote to me in Sudbury and told me what had gone wrong and he wrote telling his side of the story. I wrote to him and told him how I saw the situation and that he was being pretty selfish and immature. I got a scathing letter back from him, in which he wrote, ‘and I thought you were my friend.’ I wrote back and said ‘I thought I was your friend too but if a friend is someone who only tells you what you want to hear instead of what you need to here then I guess I’m not your friend.’ I got a quick letter back from him and there was peace in the valley. We’re still friends.
In our original rule there was a section that dealt with fraternal correction. It cautioned the superior that if he felt he had to confront someone for their faults he was to wait three days and reconsider the situation again. There can be times when the problem is with us and really not with the other person. When we find ourselves saying to a spouse, a son or daughter, a fellow worker, “you make me angry, you make me so frustrated,” the conversation goes no where.
The real problem may be our problem. We let ourselves get angry or impatient or close minded and blame it on someone else. Presenting our problem to someone else about their problem we are not always sure whether what we consider to be their problem is just something that bothers us. We need to confront ourselves honestly first, second, and third. What we should be saying is, “I get angry, annoyed, impatient, embarrassed when you do or say or act in this way.” We need to figure out whose problem this really is.
Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there. I am there asking, inviting each of them to be a sentinel – as Ezekiel was to the house of Israel – be a sentinel for one another to warn, alert, counsel one another as a friend, not as a judge. Where two or three are gathered in my name I am there, asking you to be your brother’s/sister’s keeper. I am there asking you to not only warn or alert but to support, encourage and affirm each other saying only the good things others need to hear, things that will really help them. Where two or three are gathered, I am there to remind you “Love does no wrong to a neighbour, love is the fulfilling of the law.”