Friday, 5 September 2014

Where two or three are gathered

"Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.19-20)

The second of these verses is very familiar, especially in extreme Protestant circles: we don't need the Church, a few of us gathered together in Jesus' name will do just fine.

However, this needs to be qualified by the verse immediately before it. Notice that the answering of our prayers is predicated on us agreeing with one another first. Quite clearly, our prayers when we gather together, for peace in Syria or Iraq or Gaza, for example, are not being answered. Perhaps this verse tells us why that might be. To cite the great third century scholar of Scripture, Origen:

"This is the reason why our prayers are not granted: because we do not agree together in all things upon earth, neither in doctrine, nor in conversation. For as in music, unless the voices are in time there is no pleasure to the hearer, so in the Church, unless they are united God is not pleased therein, nor does He hear their words."

Until the world is united in one body under the headship of Christ, knowing and practising His love as one great existential prayer, that prayer is not going to be answered. Fissiparity, cults and tabernacles are not the solution. We are called to unity.

St Jerome, writing in the fourth century, says that we should understand this passage spiritually and internally, too, interpreting Jesus' words here as follows:

"Where our spirit, soul, and body are in agreement, and have not within them conflicting wills, they shall obtain from My Father every thing they shall ask; for none can doubt that that demand is good, where the body wills the same thing as the spirit."

In other words, our words, actions, intentions, body and soul, need to be united with God's will: this is the true fruit of prayer. When all of humanity is so thoroughly united with its maker, then our prayers will be answered. But it starts with each of us, and it starts within.

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