Readings—Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 149; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18: 15-20
I think we can safely say that the first two words of our Gospel reading are not accurate – “Jesus said…”. Much more probable are these words – “St. Matthew said…”. Remember that before the reading we say, “The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. Matthew”.
The first clue as to my revision is that there were no “churches” in the time of Jesus, only disciples of Jesus.
The second clue, the process described was a practice developed in rabbinical circles and was designed to keep synagogues intact, valuing the community over the individual.
The third clue, we have numerous texts where Jesus specifically sought out the outcasts from the synagogues. Jesus welcomed tax collectors and Gentiles.
The fourth clue, “if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you…” has not been the experience of the church for centuries, and has not been my experience either. However, I do experience the presence of Jesus when two or three of us are gathered in his name.
Today’s Gospel shares more about how the Spirit of God was active in the early Church of St. Matthew.
Moving to the reading from Exodus, we find a similar dynamic at work. The text has transformed an actual event of the pre-flight from Egypt, into a ritual, actually, into the defining ritual of the Jewish faith. Scholars note that the actual last meal before the Hebrews’ flight was refined and developed into the Passover feast most likely after their settling in Canaan, their new home. There are many elements to the developed ritual:
A valued lamb is slaughtered and roasted. The blood of the lamb is smeared on the door posts to identify the household as Hebrew. Their haste did not allow for leavened bread. The participants are to eat quickly and to be ready for travel- loins girded for travel, sandals on the feet, a walking stick in hand.
It is not to be missed that this ritual is to start the new year; each new year beginning with the journey to freedom. And they are to be traveling light. Year after year this Jewish ritual begins with the affirmation of family, with the affirmation that life is a journey, with the sense that they are to travel light, and with the promise that God is with them.
We, too, hold these values as people of faith. Each week we begin a new chapter of our journey with the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation, and with unleavened bread, the bread of heaven, for our journey. We, too, are encouraged to travel light, to live simply on our life’s journey. And we, too, experience the presence of God being among us.
The part of scripture for us today that connects to our traveling light, in keeping our journey simple, is found in St. Paul’s letter to the community of faith in Rome.
The ancient Hebrews established a ritual that defined them as a people on a journey. St. Matthew sought to establish how a community would stay intact during the journey. St. Paul whittled down the guidepost of life to one basic element – love your neighbor as yourself.
In our current time, there are so many ways we can engineer differences and divisions for our sojourn, for our journey. St. Paul gives us another way to live.
Keep it simple.
Love your neighbor as yourself.