Gospel Meditation: The Sinner and the Community
I offer a guided Ignatian meditation on today's Gospel. This is an invitation to let the scripture enter into your heart and mind and speak personally to you. Ignatius said that meditation specifically engages our memory, thoughts, and will. We hear the word of God, and we ponder it, noticing any words, images, or ideas that speak to our hearts. And we speak to God about all of this.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the text. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text.
If at any point during the guided meditation the scripture comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written meditation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Background to the text
This passage on dealing with sin and hurt in the church community might seem harsh as Jesus says that an unrepentant sinner should be treated as “a Gentile and a tax-collector,” that is, an outsider. On the one hand, he is drawing a clear line – that those who obstinately refuse to be in right relationship with others must not be allowed to continue to harm the community. On the other hand, this is preceded by the parable of the lost sheep and followed by Jesus’ instruction to forgive “seventy-seven times.” So hope is not lost, even for those who are unrepentant in the present.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for the the grace to respond to Jesus’ invitation to you today.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly twice, savoring the words. The first time, just listen to get a sense of it, to hear what is being said. The second time, notice any word or phrase, image, or idea that speaks to your heart or “shimmers” for you. Stay with that word, image, or idea and ponder its meaning. Notice how it makes you feel. Savor the experience.
‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
What phrases or ideas in this passage have moved you, made you feel something – perhaps consoled, surprised, disturbed, or encouraged? Can you identify the phrase and the feeling?
Ask God what it means that you were moved in this way.
Jesus instructs the disciples to deal directly with a brother or sister who sins against them. He says, “if they listen to you, you have regained that one.” His attitude toward conflict is to deal directly with the other and work toward reconciliation, rather than to win or punish. How does this counsel affect you? Is it your usual way of dealing with someone who has hurt you, or is Jesus inviting you to a new approach?
Jesus highlights the importance of the community in the role of reconciling the sinner and in his presence among us. How do you experience yourself as part of the Christian community? What does it mean to you to be committed to that community?
Take a few moments to talk with Jesus about all you have reflected on, and what you are feeling and thinking right now. Speak with him as you would to a friend, sharing and listening. When you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?