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.

Prophetic role

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 prophet’s relationship with the people is assumed to be so tight Yahweh must assure Ezekiel that, if he does his job but the people don’t listen to his warning, he won’t suffer the people’s 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. That’s 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, they’re not giving a new commandment. They’re simply calling our attention to what the Jewish law itself commands in Leviticus. The responsibility to love one’s neighbor as one’s 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.

All together

"If your brother sins against you," Jesus commands, "go and tell him his fault between you and him alone." If the situation gets confrontational, don’t retreat. Simply involve more people; first "one or two others," then eventually "the church."

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 we’re 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.