Then he cried in my hearing with a loud voice, saying, "Draw near, you executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand." And six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his weapon for slaughter in his hand; among them was a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his side. They went in and stood beside the bronze altar. Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house.
The Lord called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his side; and said to him, "Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of those who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it." To the others he said in my hearing, "Pass through the city after him, and kill; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Cut down old men, young men and young women, little children and women, but touch no one who has the mar. And begin at my sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were in front of the house. Then he said to them, "Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go!" So they went out and killed in the city.
Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house and stopped above the cherubim. The cherubim lifted up their wings and rose up from the earth in my sight as they went out with the wheels beside them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord; and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.
These were the living creatures that I saw underneath the God of Israel by the river Chebar; and I knew that they were cherubim. Each had four faces, each four wings, and underneath their wings something like human hands. As for what their faces were like, they were the same faces whose appearance I had seen by the river Chebar. Each one moved straight ahead.
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!
May the name of the Lord be blessed
both now and for evermore! (R.)
From the rising of the sun to its setting
praised be the name of the Lord!
High above all nations is the Lord,
above the heavens his glory. (R.)
Who is like the Lord, our God,
who has risen on high to his throne
yet stoops from the heights to look down,
to look down upon heaven and earth? (R./)
Jesus also said, "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."
Each of the readings witnesses to a sense of unity among the people God has chosen. Ezekiel sees that their collective life goes on, even in their exile; Matthew affirms the presence of Jesus with the church community, even of "two or three gathered in my name."
Death also features in Ezekiel's vision of Jerusalem, as the exile begins. After the angel of life has gone through the temple and city to mark with an "X" the foreheads of the sincere servants of God, then the angels of death do their grim work, beginning with the elders out in front of the temple. Temple and city are strewn with sinful corpses and profanation is everywhere. The glory of the Lord departs from the Holy of Holies and moves eastward out of the city till it rests on the Mount of Olives.
The prophet portrays a people in which evil and virtue, death and life, loss and new hope exist side by side. Just as a proud purist cannot be fully at home within this people of God, neither can a person totally devoid of ideals and hopes. A community arrives at its best when its inherent goodness and virtue come to the fore. Each of us is a combination of the good and the bad. We need one another, so that goodness in one person challenges the evil in another, while the different kind of goodness in this other acts as a purifying agent on the former.
Jesus makes clear that none of us can manage our virtues or our faults independently of the community of believers, the church. Some problems can be settled quickly between the individuals concerned; others are more difficult and require someone outside the immediate circle but not outside the church. The witness of the church again takes place in a community way, not on the word of a single person but "on the word of two or three witnesses." Jesus also wants us to pray within the communion of the church. Otherwise even this best of our moments can degenerate into mree expressions of individualism. In contrast, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst."
We can often be impressed by numbers, and that is true even within the context of the church. We look to see how many are coming to Mass or how many are signing up to this event or to that ministry. Jesus' way of looking at things is somewhat different to ours. Numbers did not seem to be an issue for him. He understood the value of the one;. In yesterday's gospel he spoke of the shepherd who left the ninety nine sheep to go in the search of the one who was lost. He declares that where two or three are gathered in his name (that is, because they belong to him), he is there right there with them. The smallest gathering in a tiny church, whether for prayer or communal life, is hugely significant because the living Lord is present in the world through them. In these days of declining numbers within the church, the gospel may help us to appreciate the significance of those who are present, regardless of how few. We can never be complacent, of course, about those who are absent; we need to find new ways of calling them back. Yet, the Lord is present where two or three are gathered in his name; he is present among us as Emmanuel, "God-with-us. If we keep opening ourselves to the Lord's presence among us, few though we may be, he will draw others to himself through us.