In St Matthew’s Gospel, our Lord both teaches and does. He is the Master of thought and life. The Gospel alternates from one to the other, in a structured way. So, we find in Matthew’s Gospel five extended building-blocks of teaching, five major discourses – most famously, the Sermon on the Mount, chs 5 to 7. Today we are catapulted into the middle of the 4th, ch. 18. The focus of this discourse is how Christians should relate to each other. It is about life together in the Church. It looks beyond Jesus’ resurrection to the social presence of Christians in history – until the Lord comes. In fact, in today’s Gospel, lost in translation, the word “church” comes twice – here rendered “community”. And the Gospel is showing us how to get our Christian relationships right.
Let’s stand back. Two weeks ago, we heard Christ say to Peter, “On this rock I will build my Church.” It is Jesus’ intention to build a house, a shelter, a home on the rock of Peter’s profession of faith. To build a house for wandering, scattered, homeless, asylum-seeking humanity. The mission of Christ, the Son of the living God, is to stretch out his hands on the Cross so as to call all who hear out of separation and exile back to the Father’s house. Initially on earth, definitively in heaven. Here already, even if some of the windows are broken, even if the boiler gives out now and then, here it is: one, holy, catholic and apostolic, a house built on the rock of faith. St Paul calls it “the household of God” (1 Tim 3:15). Go back to the roots of the word “parish”, back through Latin and Greek, and you come to the word “house”. Go back to the roots of the word “diocese”, and you come to the word “house”. It’s one same “house”, built on rock, our dear, poor, beautiful Church, the lodge, the B and B, at the gateway to the heavenly mansion, the suburb of the heavenly City.
That’s the “big picture”. This is the great work of God, the divine construction industry busy around us and in us, never in lockdown; this home-making, this gathering-together.
And how does Christ see this house, this household? What does he ask of it? Today’s Gospel gives some clues. “If your brother sins…” “Your brother…” – your sister possibly, of course! – but that word “brother” jumps out. It throws us back immediately to one of the several original sins that pepper the first chapters of Genesis. After Adam and Eve have gone their own way from God and started to blame and pain each other, brother Cain murders brother Abel. “Where is your brother?” asks the Lord. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”, he says. He might as well have said, “What brother?” Humanity is unravelling. And the mission of the Son of the living God, to say it again, is to undo the undoing, to sew up the torn garment, to make whole again. We are sisters and brothers. We are all children of God sprung from the same womb. Which womb? The font of baptism. We enter our cathedral, pass through the inner doors, and what do we meet? The font. It’s there like a mother standing at the door welcoming her children as they come back home, reminding them that they are siblings. “If your brother sins…” We are brothers and sisters because we are all born again of water and the Holy Spirit, children of the heavenly Father, the offspring of Mother Church. And so we can’t say, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We can’t not care. We can’t not care about our common home, creation, our fellow-creatures – Laudato Si! We can’t not care about the suffering of any of our fellow human-beings; the law, says St Paul, is summed up in loving your neighbour as yourself. But how much more must we care about our fellow-Christians. “If your brother sins…”, your fellow-believer. Do what you can to dress the wound, patch the tear, to “gain your brother”, Jesus says. We might fail, certainly, but still we must try. “Gain your brother” means undo the ravelling, sew up the garment, set the loose stone back in the wall, recreate the harmony God wants, bring heaven and earth together.
“Brother”, one clue for how the Lord sees his Church, the household of faith. “If two of you agree…”, there’s another. The Greek for “agree” here is “symphonise”. We are Christ’s orchestra, each with his or her own instrument. Christ is the composer, and the musical score we are given to play in the world and before God Jesus wrote in the Beatitudes.
Again, “Where two or three are gathered together into – says the Greek – into my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It’s another clue. We are those gathered together by God (not first and foremost by our own will), gathered together into the name, the person, of Christ.
A brotherhood, a symphony, a being-gathered, a living together in the Name: something bright is shining here: the house at the end of the world, the city set on a hill.
We are being invited – in the sweatiness of daily life, in our most ordinary relationships, in our homes and parishes – invited to take part in a great divine enterprise. The divine enterprise of undoing all the fragmentation, the shattering and scattering, the shredding and tearing, that issues from sin, of making humanity an echo of the harmony of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. St Augustine describes the Church as “the world reconciled”. We are called to work with God in making the house we have been given a home, allowing our Church, our parishes, to become what they are, a place of brothers and sisters gathered together in Christ, making God’s music in the world.
May I make a practical suggestion? Reach out, today, to someone, a fellow- Christian, a fellow-Catholic, a fellow-parishioner. Reach out to them. Just to show we are brothers and sisters, and actually care.
(St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen)