Synopsis: OT XXIII [A] Sunday Homily on Mt 18:15-20 (L/17)
Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is God’s command concerning spiritual responsibility and our individual accountability for others in our families, parishes and community, which rises from our identity as God’s children and hence as brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, therefore, the “keepers” of our brothers and sisters with the painful responsibility of lovingly and prudently correcting our erring brothers and sisters. This individual responsibility in a Christian society includes fraternal correction of other members and our obligation to forgive our offenders and to ask forgiveness from others for our offenses.
Scripture lessons: In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is to be a “watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers. If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked. In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing and correcting the sinner. Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian not only to assist his neighbors in their temporal and spiritual needs with material help and prayer, but also with correction and counsel for an erring brother or sister who has damaged the community by his or her public sin. If the erring one refuses a one-on-one loving correction by the offended party, then the Christian is to try to involve more people: first, “one or two others,” and eventually “the Church.” Finally, Jesus mentions the efficacy of community prayer in solving such problems, for Christ is present in the praying Christian community.
Life messages: 1) We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper. Modern believers tend to think that they have no right to intervene in the private lives of their fellow believers. Others evade the issue saying, “As a sinner, I don’t have the moral courage or the right to correct anyone.” But Jesus emphatically affirms that we are our brothers’ keepers, and we have the serious obligation to correct others. Have we offered advice and encouragement to our friends and neighbors and coworkers when it was needed, and loving correction in private for a personal offense where that was possible?
2) Gather in Jesus’ name and work miracles: Today’s Gospel reminds us of the good we can do together, and of how we can do it. Jesus says,“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If any group of us gather, work, and act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we will become much more than simply the sum of our numbers. Today, Jesus makes it clear how important we are, one to another. One in Christ, our community can use God’s power to make His healing, life-giving love more effective among His people.
OT XXIII [A] : Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20
Anecdote #1: “Fraulein, will you forgive me?” Corrie ten Boom often thought back over the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. How could she ever forgive the former Nazis who had been her jailers? Where was love, acceptance, and forgiveness in a horror camp where more than 95,000 women died? How could she ever forget the horrible cruelty of the guards and the smoke constantly coming from the chimney of the crematorium? Then in 1947 Corrie was speaking in a Church in Munich, and when the meeting was over she saw one of the cruellest male guards of Ravensbruck coming forward to speak to her. He had his hand outstretched. “I have become a Christian,” he explained. “I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” A conflict raged in Corrie’s heart. The Spirit of God urged her to forgive. The spirit of bitterness and coldness urged her to turn away. “Jesus, help me,” she prayed. Then she knew what she must do. “I can lift my hand,” she thought to herself. “I can do that much.” As their hands met it was as if warmth and healing broke forth with tears and joy. “I forgive you, brother, with all my heart,” she said. Later Corrie testified that “it was the power of the Holy Spirit” who had poured the love of God into her heart that day. (Garrie F. Williams, “Welcome, Holy Spirit.” Copyright (c) 1994) I don’t know any other way true forgiveness can take place. We turn our hurt over to God. We ask God for the ability to forgive.
#2: Marshall Tito and Bishop Sheen: In a little church in a small village, an altar boy serving the priest at Sunday Mass accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. The village priest struck the altar boy sharply on the cheek and in a gruff voice shouted, “Leave the altar and don’t come back.” That boy became Tito, the Communist leader. In the cathedral of a large city in another place, another altar boy serving the bishop at Sunday Mass also accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. With a warm twinkle in his eyes, the bishop gently whispered, “Someday you will be a priest.” Do you know who that boy was? Archbishop Fulton Sheen. How do you deal with others who have caused problems for you? Jesus has the answer in today’s Gospel: With straight talk, due process, but most of all, with grace.
# 3: “I must forgive”: Sister Helen Prejean, in her book Dead Man Walking, tells the real story of Lloyd LeBlanc, a Roman Catholic layman, whose son was murdered. When he arrived in the cane field with the sheriff’s deputies to identify his son David’s body, LeBlanc immediately knelt by his boy’s body and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. When he came to the words: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,” he realized the depth of the commitment he was making. “Whoever did this, I must forgive them, I resolved,” he later told Sr. Prejean. LeBlanc confessed that it had been difficult not to be overcome by the bitterness and feelings of revenge that welled up from time to time, especially on David’s birthday. But for the rest of his life, forgiveness was prayed for and struggled for and won. He went to the execution of the culprit Patrick Sonnier, not for revenge but hoping for an apology. Before sitting in the electric chair Patrick Sonnier, the murderer said, “Mr. Le Blanc, I want to ask your forgiveness for what I did,” and Lloyd LeBlanc nodded his head, signaling forgiveness he had already given. Today’s Gospel reminds us and challenges us to continue on the path to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Introduction: The common theme of today’s readings is the impact of our membership in the Church on our “private” lives. Being a member of the Church means we belong to the single Body of Christ and form a community of brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, therefore, the “keepers” of our brothers and sisters, for each one of us is important to all the others in our Faith community. That is why we have to be meaningfully present to, and take responsibility for, other people. Inhuman behavior against defenseless people, like child abuse, elder abuse or spouse abuse, is something about which we need to be really concerned, to the point of taking appropriate action to protect the victims. This individual responsibility in a Christian society includes, as today’s readings remind us, our responsibility for each other. Perhaps the most painful obligations of watchful love are fraternal correction and generosity in forgiving and forgetting injuries. In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is to be a “watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers. If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked. Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 95), urges sinners to hear God’s Voice, not to harden their hearts, and to remember that He is the One Who made us, and the Rock of our salvation. In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing the sinner. Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian not only to assist his neighbors in their temporal and spiritual needs with material help and prayer, but also with correction and counsel for an erring brother or sister who has damaged the community by his or her public sin. If the erring brother refuses a one-on-one loving correction by the offended party, then the Christian is to try to involve more people: first, “one or two others,” and eventually “the church.” But harsh words and an aggressive attitude have no place in a Christian community. Finally, Jesus mentions the efficacy of community prayer in solving such problems, for Christ is present in the praying Christian community. The whole thrust of the passage is that we should all work towards reconciliation rather than punishment.
The first reading (): defines the role of an Old Testament prophet. The prophet is Ezekiel who was deported by Nebuchadnezzar from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597 B.C., together with King Jehoiachin of Judah (Ezekiel 1: 1-3), and most of the nobles of the country. “You, son of man,” Yahweh proclaims, “I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear Me say anything, you shall warn them for Me.” Like a watchman, the prophet exists only for the good of others, in this case, those deported from Israel to Babylon. He is to give them God’s words, to challenge them and to correct them from time to time, so that if they should go wrong, the responsibility would be theirs. Here, Ezekiel gets straightforward orders from Yahweh, assigning responsibility to him and to the people, with no ifs, ands or buts tolerated. As Christians, we are all God’s prophets, God’s representatives, God’s watchmen, set on elevated places to give warning of approaching danger to our brothers and sisters. The prophets of all times have a grave responsibility for their people’s salvation. None of us can retire from the task of being watchmen. As Ezekiel is appointed watchman over the house of Israel in today’s first Reading, so Jesus in the Gospel today establishes His disciples as guardians of the new Israel of God, the Church (see Galatians 6:16). They have the power to bind and loose, to forgive sins and to reconcile sinners in His name (see John 20:21-23). (Scott Hann).
The second reading, (): After finishing his treatment of doctrinal questions on Christ and our relationship to him, Paul used to write an application of the doctrine to the day-to-day behavior of the congregation receiving the letter. In today’s reading, after urging the Christian converts of Rome to obey their lawful civil authorities, and after discussing the inability of the Mosaic Law to save anyone, no matter how well he may keep it, Paul adds such an application. Here Paul seems to be saying, “You still want the Law? I’ll give you the real law. Love one another. That fulfills the law.” If God is not known and loved, there can be no basis or motive for true love of neighbor. It is only the presence of God in each human being and the recognition of others as God’s children that can form a sound basis for the love of our neighbors. In short, love is the basis of the law, and we fulfill the law by loving our neighbor. Paul reminds us that love requires that we should watch out for one another’s souls, and love specifies the manner in which our watchful care of one another should be conducted.
Gospel Exegesis: Today’s Gospel deals with the relationship of members of the Church to each other and highlights one of the most painful responsibilities that we have towards others, namely fraternal correction. Matthew expands a saying of Jesus, originally concerned primarily with forgiveness (compare the shorter version in Luke 17:3-4), into a four-step procedure for disciplining members in the new eschatological Community of the Church. In the seventeenth century, the great Anglican priest and poet John Donne reminded us, “No man is an island, entire unto himself.” In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructed his disciples about relationships among members of the Church, because through Baptism we assume a serious responsibility for our fellow-believers. Suppose a son or daughter, friend or acquaintance, relative, neighbor, even parent or teacher, does “something wrong” to us, whether the sin is of commission or omission. By outlining a four-step process of confrontation, negotiation, adjudication and excommunication, Jesus tells us how to deal with and finally mend a broken relationship within the Christian fellowship.