Scripture knows nothing of "faithful loners." Scriptural faith is lived in
the midst of people; it revolves around relations with others. No sacred author recommends
a "cloistered" lifestyle. Though biblical people sometimes go out into "the
desert," they only use the experience as a tool to orient their hearts and heads for
an eventual return to town.
None would agree with the famous Thomas a Kempis statement, "Whenever I am among
men, I return less a man." Page after scriptural page, we hear that perfection
consists in developing relationships, not fleeing from them.
The first reading (Ez 33:7-9) classically defines one of the essential ministries in
the Hebrew Scriptures: prophet. "You, son of man," Yahweh proclaims, "I
have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall
warn them for me." Like a watchman, a prophet exists only for the good of others.
A prophets relationship with the people is assumed to be so tight Yahweh must
assure Ezekiel that, if he does his job but the people dont listen to his warning,
he wont suffer the peoples fate.
Paul, coming from a Pharisee background of obeying 613 Torah laws, knows that people
who revolve their faith around following rules and regulations often shove relationship
into the background. Thats why he always reminds his Christian communities that love
is an essential obligation of faith (Rom 13:8-14).
"Owe nothing to anyone," he writes to the Romans, "except to love one
another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments...are
summed up in this saying: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Some well-meaning, but biblically deficient Christians forget that when Paul (and
Jesus) tell us to love our neighbors as ourselves, theyre not giving a new
commandment. Theyre simply calling our attention to what the Jewish law itself
commands in Leviticus. The responsibility to love ones neighbor as ones self
is central to the Torah. That fact alone tells us that the temptation to separate
religious obligations from relationships has been around for a long, long time.
Matthew implicitly demonstrates why this temptation exists (Mt 18;15-20). Relationships
are messy; rules and regulations are neat. By the time Matthew writes, more than 45 years
after Jesus death and resurrection, Christian communities have experienced their
share of messy, relationship-centered problems. The gospel is triggered by one of them.
"If your brother sins against you," Jesus commands, "go and tell him his
fault between you and him alone." If the situation gets confrontational, dont
retreat. Simply involve more people; first "one or two others," then eventually
When we listen carefully to this passage, we hear Jesus proclaim His great faith in the
community: "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."
The sole reason were able to discover the risen Jesus in the Christian community
is because Jesus wishes to be present in that community.
Since the only Jesus we know is the risen Jesus, we can easily overlook the "messy
dimensions" of the historical Jesus. I doubt He took a shower every day, used
deodorant, brushed His teeth after meals, or always said things people like. Trying to
experience the risen Jesus in the historical people around us might help us understand why
so any people originally rejected the historical Jesus.
Those who reject the "messy" community today probably would have rejected the
"messy" Jesus 2,000 years ago.