Jesus Calls the Fragile Together

Jesus Calls the Fragile Together

Homily for the Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

September 10, 2023

Jesus Calls the Fragile Together

Homily for Sunday, September 10, 2023

The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Matthew 18:15-20


“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”


If indeed (as tradition tells us) St. Matthew is the author of theGospel that bears his name, it makes sense that in his Gospel Matthew paysattention to those who are fragile. Matthew was a tax collector (9:9), and tax collectors – both in Hebrew society and also in the Gospels – were outcast, often tagged as “sinners”(e.g., Mt 9:10, Lk 15:1) and even lumped together with “prostitutes” (Mt21:31).  As a tax collector Matthew probably was painfully aware of his outcast status, and so was perhaps assurprised as anyone when Jesus called him, Matthew, to “Follow me” (9:9).  And imagine the affirmation Matthew must havefelt when only moments later Jesus stood by his choice:  “Those who are well have no need of aphysician,” Jesus told the Pharisees who had questioned Matthew’s call, “I havecome not to call the righteous but sinners” (9:12,13).  Matthew would have known first-hand thatJesus stands with the least, the last and the lost, that Jesus excludes no onefrom his friendship.  And so in Matthew’sGospel when Jesus asks, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1) theanswer is, “Whoever becomes humble like this child is greatest in the kingdomof heaven” (18:4).  Matthew adds, “Takecare that you do not despise one of these little ones” (18:10).  And again, “It is not the will of your Fatherin heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (18:14).  In his Gospel, Matthew pays attention tothose who are fragile.


In his Gospel, Matthew makesclear that Jesus cares, not merely for fragile individuals, but also forfragile communities.  There are any number of reasons why Christian communities can be fragile, writesMatthew.  In today’s text, for example,Matthew points out that sin makes a community fragile, and he urges it to be mended: “If another member of thechurch sins against you,” he writes, “go and point out the fault….”  Matthew also knew that the Church could be fragile because of unhealthy boundaries, as in today’s text.  “If the offender refuses to listen even tothe church, let that one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”  “Set healthy boundaries,” urges Matthew! Matthew knew that the Church could be fragile because the Church doesnot always listen.  We do not alwayslisten to each other, as in today’s text,“but if the member does not listen…”  Nor do we always listen to the needs of the poor, as in Matthew25:  “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or naked or a stranger… and did not care for you?” (Mt25:44).  Nor do we always listen to Jesus’ teaching:  “Everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them,” Jesus says,“will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (7:26).  And – perhaps most important for the Church today– Matthew also knew that the Church could be fragile (or seem fragile) becauseof fewness of numbers, for again in today’s lesson Matthew writes, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20).  As if to say, “I know you may not be many,but do not be afraid, for Jesus is here with you.”  


With his talk of sin in the community, by reminding us of the importance of boundaries, by acknowledging that the Church does not always listen, and by his reference to the community’s fewness of number, Matthew acknowledges that communities, like individuals, can be fragile.  If what scholars posit about Matthew’s community is true – that Matthew’s community was a synagogue of Jesus-believers surrounded by synagogues who did not believe in Jesus – then not only was Matthew the tax collector marginalized and outcast, but Matthew’s community was likewise marginalized and outcast.  And in today’s lesson, just as earlier Jesus had stood up and defended Matthew when the Pharisees challenged his call, so intoday’s reading does Matthew assure his community, fragile though they may feel, that Jesus is with them:  “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (18:20).


Today we at Trinity begin another year of Sunday School and another year of the choir; and this week we begin, too, the new endeavor of the Trinity Parish Chorister Program.  If at times we might feel fragile, we wouldnot be mistaken: we are few in number, we are human beings beset by sin, we do not always listen, clear boundaries require constant work, and we are undertaking a new and not un-risky endeavor.  But Matthew’s message –Matthew, who in many ways was fragile and whose community in many ways was fragile– [Matthew’s message] is:  do not be afraid, for Jesus is with us.  In Matthew, Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us” (1:23).  In Matthew, Jesus is wherever two or three are gathered in his name.  In Matthew, Jesus will be with us “always, to the end of the age” (28:20).  And so for us, in our new year, fragile though we sometimes may feel or actually may be, I hope we might take comfortand find strength in Matthew’s assurance that, in all our endeavors, even if only two or three are present, Jesus is with us.  


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