06Sep 06 September, 2020. 23rd Sunday, Year A

06 September, 2020. 23rd Sunday, Year A

We have a moral obligation to correct grave wrongdoing, whether in the family (by kind advice), the workplace or society (by whistleblowing). It is part of the office of authority to offer correction with love and respect. The old dictum, “hate the sin but love the sinner” is a good guideline in many situations, as is St Paul’s principle: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”

1st Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9

As a preacher, Ezekiel has the responsibility to warn sinners to repent

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows,

“You, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.”

Responsorial: Psalm 94:1-2, 6-9

R./: If today you hear his voice! Harden not your hearts.

Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord. (R./)

Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us
for he is our God and we
the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand. (R./)

O that today you would listen to his voice!
‘Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.’ (R./)

2nd Reading: Romans 13:8-10

Paul condenses all the commandments into “love one another”

Owe no one anything, 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 murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Fraternal correction within the Christian family

Jesus said to his disciples, “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.”


Watchmen should guard and warn

The homilist might venture a comment on the Ezekiel text. This prophet borrowed an image from war and its threat to national survival. He knows that a people under threat needs its sentries. The real threat that sentry Ezekiel sees, is not an attack from without, but failure of the community from within, a breakdown that leads to death. The danger that he must warn about is the threat of sin. This warning of Ezekiel is not directed to the community as a whole but to the individual within it. Individual responsibility takes on a new force in his message.

Our own era too is preoccupied with problems of national and international peace and security. For us, the watchman on the city wall is no longer a sufficient form of security. Our world leaders feel the need of sophisticated “early-warning” devices, so that our peace hangs upon a balance of terror. The threat of our times is no longer the fall of a city but an international holocaust.

When Ezekiel preached he was a prisoner in enemy territory and he could warn that it was not external force, but the enemy within, that is the real threat to life–that enemy is sin, the abandonment of God. It is the prophetic role of the Church to continue this preaching (even if its voice is treated like something coming from foreign soil.) The gospel of Christ is that life and peace come from faith in God and the doing of his will. This gospel calls us to repentance but is no mere denunciation of sin. Christ brought the gift of reconciliation and life. One might develop this further by reflecting on how we as a community can be a sign of what we preach, a repentant community that has found the life and peace offered by Christ.

A reconciled community: Today’s readings confront us with two aspects of the question. Firstly the need for a sense of individual responsibility in the way of conversion. Ezekiel certainly made it clear that the individual is addressed by the Word of God calling for repentance. There is no way out of this personal responsibility.

But all of this should not be seen simply in terms of what the individual owes to the community. The whole Church is called to be supportive of each person who seeks reconciliation. This is especially important in a world where so many people feel threatened by the alienating force of impersonal state structures. The Church is not called to be mega-corporation.

Individuals who are perplexed by their own failures or oppressed by the weaknesses of others, need a community that does not drive them further into isolation but one which calls them through forgiveness and love into the life of fellowship. Living in this fellowship does mean that we owe debts to one another, and as Paul reminds us today the only obligation tat ultimately counts is the debt of love we owe one another.

This reconciled community will be an effective sign to the world not because it creates a superficial harmony, but because it faces the reality of sin in itself. It finds forgiveness as the solution to this threat. Renewal of the ministry of reconciliation in the Church increasingly takes the form of communal services of penance, linked to the celebration of the sacrament. This is an effective way of bringing home to people that all sin effects the community and reconciliation must include the community.


One Response

  1. Pádraig McCarthy

    The reading Matthew 18:15-20 needs the context of what immediately precedes it: lose one sheep out of 100? Do everything in your power to seek out and find that sheep.

    It might seem Jesus is recommending a set of procedures for sorting out disputes. Instead, Matthew’s community is telling its understanding of what the will of Jesus is when disunity appears in the Christian community, as it will: do everything in your power to heal the rift. You may find it impossible at times to bring about that healing. What’s this about treating a person like a pagan or a tax-collector? No, it doesn’t mean we must abandon that person or cut them off. Instead, Jesus has provided the model: he reached out to such people, even at the cost of being criticised and blamed for doing so. Even when all efforts fail, keep the door open, keep your hearts open, to welcome the person back, even if it will not happen at this moment.

    It is important first to make an individual approach. It may turn out to be a misunderstanding, or mistaken expectations; or the one offended may discover that there are other factors involved which led to the behaviour being questioned. We cannot take a position until we have heard what the one presumed to have offended has to say. (it may even be something done by the offended party which led to it!)

    This is what the two must be of one accord with: to be in full harmony (“symphonesosin”) on how the community will address the situation.

    When two or three gather, Jesus is present particularly in this context as they work to bring about reconciliation and healing. How they act towards the offender must be in accord with knowing that Jesus is right there as they do so.

    The words of Paul today carry weight. It will carry much more weight if the presumed offender knows that the approach is made, not in anger or bitterness, but in love. Love is the fulfilment of all the commandments.

    American writer Ursula le Guin wrote: “What is the way to use anger to fuel something other than hurt, to direct it away from hatred, vengefulness, self-righteousness, and make it serve creation and compassion?”

    True healing of breaches of unity will strengthen the unity of the community, of the disciples of Jesus.

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