Christmas is a time of poverty. The Spirit of Bethlehem is one of smallness, of tiny new beginnings that open our minds to the infinite largeness of Incarnate Wisdom. The Christ Child heals us of our presumption. The New Born shows us that we simply don’t know what God has in store. His impoverished delivery stops us in our tracks. We stand like beasts in a stable, our knowledge, our understanding, our science, our facts, our truths stripped of eternal value. All that remains, whether we’re shepherds or kings or someone in between, is for us to nod along with the tiny beat of the drummer boy offering his seemingly meaningless gift. Let’s welcome Christ Jesus, Innocence itself, by being poor with Him. Let’s let go of preconceived notions of having control. To stand before the Lord in our nothingness is worth more to Him than any amount of gold, frankincense or myrrh. Our humility before the bright light is pure praise and prayer to the One Who offers us everything.
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.
Jesus is found in this passage of Matthew advising the disciples to “tell the Church” if an erring member of the community refuses to listen to correction in private. The Church did not yet exist in the time of Jesus, so was Matthew applying principles he learned from the master to the new Christian communities? Many scholars think so. Principles for reconciliation developed in response to real conflicts.
Interestingly, the former tax collector Matthew wrote that an incorrigible member should be treated as a “Gentile or a tax collector.” In fact, Jesus treated both types of pariah with incredible love and mercy. In this context, they stand for the stubborn and unyielding.
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.
The power to “bind” and “loose” that was given to Peter (Matthew 16:19) was also given to the other disciples here, or “In this context the sayings about binding and loosing (18:18) and two or three gathered in Jesus’ name should be interpreted in the framework of reconciliation within the community (18:19-20).”1
Such weighty responsibilities led St. Gregory the Great (pope from 590 to 604) to call himself the “Servant of the Servants of God.” He turned the ecclesiastical pyramid upside down and placed the pope, the Vicar of Christ, at the bottom, in the image of the master washing the feet of his disciples.
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.”
Authentic prayer always draws us into communion, whether we are in an assembly or in “lockdown.” A child of the Father is never alone; the angels of the little ones are ever at their side beholding the face of the Father in heaven (Matthew 18:10).
In 1887, the fourteen year-old St. Thérèse of Lisieux prayed in the presence of her guardian angel and the communion of saints for the conversion of a murderer, Henri Pranzini, who was about to be guillotined. The hardened, impenitent rebel asked for the crucifix at the very last moment and kissed it three times, falling into the arms of divine mercy. Pranzini was the Little Flower’s first adopted son. Her hidden life of prayer and sacrifice in the cloister of Carmel eventually earned her the title of Patroness of all Missionaries and the Missions, though she never stepped foot on foreign soil.
Saints show us the way to true reconciliation by following in the footsteps of the humble Christ.
1 Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., The Gospel of Matthew, Sacra Pagina Series, Volume 1, Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1991, p. 271.