TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR September 7, 2008

Ezekiel 33:7-9   Romans 13:8-10   Matthew 18:15-20

Today’s three reading from the Holy Scriptures, tell us that the Lord God has given us the responsibility to be our brothers’ keepers. Therefore, we have the duty to correct support and rectify the errors in the community.  The Gospel passage of today deals with such situations within the Christian community which is applicable even today. The whole of Matthew chapter 18 is a discourse on mutual relations within the Christian community and tells us what a Christian has to do especially when divisions arise in the family, in the society and the church. The passage tells us of the three-stage procedure for dealing with a community member who has done “something wrong. In other words Jesus taught us how to proceed as responsible and accountable spiritual brothers and sisters who are genuinely concerned for the spiritual well-being of others.

From the Book of Ezekiel, we heard God commanding us to speak on His behalf.  we are bluntly told that we must all feel responsible for such situations.  As Christians and ministers of the Word of God, through the promise that we have made to God and the Church when we were baptized, we have a responsibility and we are obligated to warn the wicked to turn away from their sinful ways so that they may be saved from spiritual death. If the sinners ignore our pleas to repent, they will suffer eternal damnation.  In the second reading, St. Paul sums up for man the New Dispensation of the whole Mosaic Law. “Love your neighbor as yourself.”   It tells us that we should adopt in order to deal creatively with such situations: Love.  If any situation is to develop creatively, we need to adopt an attitude of understanding, caring and sympathy.  Love does work wonders.  True love, based on faith and hope, fosters creative interest in each other despite insurmountable antipathies

Our faith tells us that the church is a community of persons living together in charity sharing the love of Jesus at the Eucharistic table. It is a place where one experiences the presence of Jesus. This means that being a Christian is not a private, purely personal affair of living as individuals.  We cannot afford to answer like Cain that we are not our brother’s keepers. The teaching of the Gospel is that indeed I am responsible for my brothers and sisters.  The entire thrust of the passage is that we should all work towards reconciliation rather than punishment in order to build better relationships. There will also be a desire to keep the issue at as low a profile as possible. One must remember that the most painful obligation of watchful love is fraternal correction.  The simplest attitude is live and let live. There is also the fear of rejection, anger or break of permanent relationship.

However in a measure of love any wrong doing or improper behaviour needs corrective measures. The first step requires that the person who does the mistake has to be corrected and the initiative comes from the wronged person in the community.  He must meet the wrong doer and talk things over and not wait for the wrongdoer to approach him.  If the two are agreeable, then, much is achieved other wise Jesus suggests the second step. In this case again, the wronged party must take the initiative and invites a third party, perhaps an elder in the community to resolve the issue.  The third party’s advice on the matter should be final. If this also fails there is the wider community which seeks to convince the person to reconciliation. Community as a body has the wisdom, faith and the presence of Jesus. Ultimately even if this does not work, Jesus says he must be treated as a pagan or a tax collector.

In the last resort, if the offender still refuses to listen or to change, “treat him like a pagan or tax collector”. Does this mean to say, let him be put out from the community and be regarded as an outsider. Obviously, this is something drastic and Jesus would never have desired to cut the person from the community.  If we reflect and see how Jesus encountered the pagans and tax collectors. He invited them to be with him.  He ate with them, accepted them, drank water from their vessels, loved them and made them part of his life.  To summarize the attitude of Jesus towards tax collectors is that he loved them.  He expected his followers to do the same, to accept the wrong person and love them as he loved and ultimately it is love that will win the person back into the community. The situation, obviously, can be changed by a change in the attitude and behaviour of the wrongdoer which can be done only by love. Many of us are reluctant to involve ourselves in other people’s affairs. Such behaviour against defenseless people is something about which we need to be really concerned, to the point of taking appropriate action to protect the victims. If such things happen within the family it can be even more difficult to take action.

Jesus further stresses the importance of the community prayer, where a small group makes a request of the Father for something definite.  The Heavenly Father is sure to grant this request.  Then Jesus promises something more: “For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.” Wherever Christians meet together in truth and love, whether it is for prayer, study, or decision-making, Jesus is present and Jesus speaks and acts. This is both a tremendous gift and also a great responsibility. And so it is that Paul in the Second Readings puts the emphasis on love. It contains all other Christian obligations. “Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.”  As a community we have a responsibility for each other’s wellbeing.

Teacher Debbie Moon’s first graders were discussing a picture of a family.  One little boy in the picture had a different hair color than the other members. One of her students suggested that he was adopted. A little girl said, ‘I know all about adoption, I was adopted.’ ‘What does it mean to be adopted?’ asked another child. ‘It means’, said the girl, ‘that you grew in your mommy’s heart instead of her tummy!’

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