In this Gospel Jesus begins with an instruction on how to deal with a “brother who sins against you,” and ends with a lesson on the Lord’s presence about prayer; “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It’s interesting to note that in Judaism the number of men present for trial and for prayer was clearly defined. There were two levels of Sanhedrin that held trials, the lesser Sanhedrin of 23 men and the greater Sanhedrin of 71 men. In Judaism a “Minyan (the number necessary for a quorum) of ten men is needed for worship. I once had a parishioner tell me that he was walking by the synagogue on a Saturday morning and a gentleman he knew was standing at the entrance and called him over and asked if he could help them by coming into the synagogue for their Sabbath service. The fellow went on to tell my parishioner that he didn’t have to be Jewish and didn’t have to pray, “we just need ten men, and we’re one short”. This Gospel gives a teaching about both the process for dealing with conflict as well as how to pray, and Jesus makes a major change in how the disciples were accustomed to doing both.
Jesus teaches us that when dealing with conflict twenty-three or seventy-one are not needed. For Jesus the issue begins with a personal conversation with the hope that it brings a resolution, and as Jesus says; “you have won him over as a brother.” If the initial meeting isn’t successful you bring in two or three witnesses and have a small meeting with the goal of bringing about a resolution. If that doesn’t work, it is brought to the whole church. With Jesus conflicts are not to begin as public spectacles. The goal is to bring about a resolution that brings peace to the person they are dealing with and keeps peace within the community.
In this Gospel Jesus also changed the number needed to pray (minyan) from ten to a minimum of two. In one of my parish assignments there was an elderly woman who lived across the street from the Church and on the few occasions when there was a major snowstorm, she would be the only one to venture to Church for the daily morning Mass. She would apologize that I had to say Mass just for her, and I would respond—“Jesus said were two or three or gathered I am with you.” We meet the minimum requirement.”
In both lessons in this Gospel the common denominator is that the old law of numbers is being replaced with a new teaching of community and relationships. This is something easily overlooked by us but was probably earth shattering to the disciples who were present for this teaching. It shows us God’s plan and desire that we approach him and one another in a simple personal way. It is the beauty of God’s relationship with us that He desires us to be reconciled with him for our sins and not to be publicly embarrassed and punished for them. Almost all Catholic spirituality calls for a daily examination of conscience; we begin each Mass with the Penitential Rite; and have the beautiful Sacrament of Confession, in all these God extends the intimate experience of being forgiven, and calls us to do likewise with others. In our relationship with God it’s not about numbers; we can pray during the beautiful liturgies of the church or with one or two friends and be assured that God is attentive to us.
Father Killian Loch, O.S.B.