We hear the places Meribah and Massah mentioned in our psalm, but what happened in these places? At both places, the Israelites quarreled with Moses. They were on their sojourn in the desert, and the people complained that they would die of thirst in the desert, and they even said it might have been better if they had stayed in Egypt. Moses himself complained to God that he feared that the people would hurt or kill him.
Hebrew words, Meribah means “place of strife” or “place of quarreling.” Massah means “place of the test.” While the stories about both places are almost identical, there is a difference. At Meribah the people’s complaints revealed their lack of faith. At Massah the people again showed their lack of trust, but here Moses himself revealed a lack of trust. God had told Moses to strike the rock, but Moses struck the rock twice and not as instructed.
Today’s psalm, Psalm 95, is structured around the style of worship known to its listeners. In the verses we are given we hear three calls to prayer: Come, let us sing joyfully (v. 1); Let us come into his presence (v. 2); Come, let us bow down in worship (v. 6). With these three verses there is a summons to praise, then an invitation to enter the presence of God, e.g. to enter the tent where the Ark was held or to enter the Temple; and finally, there is a call to worship God together, to hear his voice.
The psalmist presents God as the foundation of the people and as their shepherd. There is a reference to God as the Creator, “the Lord who made us (v. 6). The psalmist, having presented God as caring and as a protector, and after having issued a call to worship, calls us to hear God’s voice today not like the Israelites at Meribah and Massah. The reference to God as the Lord who made us gives us the purpose of bowing down in worship. The purpose of coming to worship to hear God’s word is so that God can build us into a unified people.
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Many people today, although believing in God, see no need for organized religion. Many will say, “I’m spiritual but not religious.” This is unfortunate because what many fail to understand is that it is in the midst of the worshiping community that God most fully reveals himself: Wherever two or three are gathered, that is where I am.
Of the many desires of God, perhaps the deepest desire is for our unity with each other. It is this unity that brings us to unity in God. Why did Matthew feel the need to include steps for conflict resolution in his gospel? Matthew included the steps because resolving conflict and being united within the community was of the upmost importance. For Matthew, the purpose and mission of Jesus Christ was to announce the Kingdom of God. Jesus came to announce it and to invite us to be a part of it. Jesus saw to it that our sin was forgiven so that being part of the Kingdom of God was possible. The last instruction of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel was to finish building what Jesus started, i.e. the Kingdom: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”
Conflict stands in the way of building God’s Kingdom. The conflicts with which Matthew concerns himself are not petty squabbles, not normal human disagreements about what color to paint the house or what clothes are the most appropriate, or what team is better than another, or even disagreements over politics. The conflict that concerns Matthew is the conflict that arises when someone in the community is not following the will of God. It is the conflict of sin, the conflict that divides the worshiping community. Unity is so important that we want to use all Christian charity to bring a person back into our unity of worship, but if doing so cannot be accomplished, then it is better that the person no longer be a member of the community. Division at the Altar and in front of the Body of Christ due to sin is unacceptable.
Ezekiel holds unity in faith to be so important that he describes himself as a watchman. This watchman is a military lookout whose purpose is to stand guard against a surprise attack. This watchman’s responsibility is to warn us of approaching evil. Just as soldiers might die if a sentry falls asleep, the community can be harmed if our unity is attacked. Ezekiel is so adamant about this role that he says that if we do nothing to keep a person from sinning, the guilt of the sin is on our heads. Ouch!
What builds unity? Being part of a community that listens to God and worships together and follows the Word that is heard does it.
FATHER STEINER, born and reared in Chattanooga, Tenn., is a priest of the Diocese of Nashville. He currently serves as rector of the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Nashville. Previously, he served in the diocesan high school as teacher, associate principal, and principal. He received his education from St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana, the Gregorian University in Rome, and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.