Commonly Misused or Least Observed Verses in the Bible?
In 1973 a group of Christians from Springfield, Missouri, U.S.A., sent me a very beautiful plastic book marker with the image of a pair of hands clasping each other as in prayer with these words below, "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." (AV)
These verses are in our Gospel reading today. At the time I received that book marker with those verses I thought that they meant that if any two Christians agree on anything that they ask for in prayer, the thing they ask for would be granted to them by God.
I was surprised to find out later that that was not the real meaning of those verses. They have a completely different meaning.
Because most who read these verses think that their meaning is that if two Christians agree on what they ask for in prayer that which they prayed for will be given to them, some Bible commentators have labeled this verse as one of the four passages in the Bible which are commonly misused. The other passages are 2 Chronicles 7:14, Jeremiah 29:11 and Matthew 7:1.
2 Chronicles 7:14 reads, "and if my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land."
Jeremiah 29:11 reads, "For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe, plans to give you a future full of hope."
And Matthew 7:1 reads, "If you want to avoid judgment, stop passing judgement". Most of us memorised the Authorised Version of this verse, "Judge not, that ye be not judged."
The reason given why the verses in our Gospel reading have been included in the list of the commonly misused Bible verses is because they are taken out of context in their interpretation. Here is an explanation from Tim Chaffey of midwestapologetics.org.
"Now let’s take a look at the context. This section deals with a subject that most churches completely neglect: church discipline. Jesus said that if you have a brother who sins against you, then you need to go to him and try to work it out. If he refuses to acknowledge his fault, then you bring one or two more witnesses to help work things out. So including you, that would make two or three witnesses—recognize that phrase? Not only is it repeated in these verses, but it comes from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15 and more). Legal cases needed to have two or three witnesses to establish a matter.
"Back to Jesus’ story. If the sinning brother did not make things right in the presence of two or three witnesses, then the case was to be brought before the church. If he refused to listen to the church’s decision, then he was to be thrown out of the congregation. I know that sounds harsh in our day because precious few churches practice discipline as Jesus instructed, but that is what we are commanded to do.
"It is with this in mind that Jesus said that the Father would grant the request of two or more who gather together in Christ’s name and are in agreement. Agreement on what? On disciplining the erring brother. That’s what this passage is about and yet so many Christians use it as though Jesus promised to answer their prayers when offered in certain situations."
It is very clear from this explanation that the agreement is not about anything but about disciplining a member of the church.
In the course of his explanation Tim says, "This section deals with a subject that most churches completely neglect: church discipline."
The three readings for this Sunday indeed deal with a subject that most churches, including our own Catholic Church, completely neglect: church discipline in the context of loving one another.
The first reading from the prophecy of Ezekiel is very clear on this matter. Let us listen to him again.
"Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, "O wicked one, you shall surely die, " and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself."
This passage originally applied to Ezekiel the prophet. But this also applies to us because by baptism we have been made prophets, that is, spokepersons, for God. That is why the Church puts this passage as our first reading because it applies to us. And yet we neglect this command of God through Ezekiel. We do not have the courage of John the Baptizer telling Herod of his sins.
When we see our members and leaders, civil or church, doing something wrong we seem not to care. But the word of God is very clear, "you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death." Perhaps we do not care because our lives are also not above reproach. We also do the evil ways that our fellow members and leaders are doing.
We cannot say with honesty what Jesus told the Jewish leaders, "Can any one of you convict me of sin?" (John 8:46).
Our second reading today also deals with a subject that most churches completely neglect: love for one another. Let us listen again to Paul the Apostle.
"Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law."
This is an echo of what Jesus said, "The command I give you is this, that you love one another." (John 15:17). Jesus qualifies this kind of love. He says, "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another." (John 13:34-35).
In other words we are to love other followers of Jesus as Jesus loves us. Alas, we neglect this! We live our own individual lives without caring for the lives of other baptized around us, particularly the poor.
And our Gospel reading is clear. "Jesus said to his disciples: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector."
Jesus knew that later this advice of his would no longer be followed. Instead we go about telling the faults of others at their back, without their knowing that we have destroyed their reputation.
It is most appropriate that today the Church reminds us of our work as prophet, to denounce the wickedness around us and of our task of loving other followers of Jesus the way Jesus loves us, and of showing this love in brotherly or sisterly correction.
So, are these verses commonly misused or least observed? Maybe they are also least observed.
Let us bow our heads in prayer.
Thank you, Jesus, for reminding us through your Church that we have work to do while we wait for your second coming, the work of denouncing the evils around us as your prophets and the task of loving your other followers, baptized Christians, the way you love us, even that by brotherly and sisterly correction. Amen.
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Note for the readers:
The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.
NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.
AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.