September 7th 2014
Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A -- Modern Gospel
Uncompromising words about sin drawn from both the Old and New Testaments weave
together the readings for mass this Sunday. While all religious movements
through history have been accompanied by moral teachings concerning sin and
forgiveness, Judaism, Christianity which emerged from it, and all of the
Christian churches which then stemmed from the Catholic Church elevated this
sort of moral instruction by relating it to the personal rapport that each
person individually and the entire believing community collectively have with
Matthew 18: 15-20
Sin is more than a violation of a rule then, it is an act which wounds the unity
and charity that should exist between all people, and between all people and
God. It is especially tragic when sin marks the relationship between those who
believe in Christ.
To this end, in the first reading we see Ezekiel the prophet being admonished as
to his solemn duties as a prophet, and being told that he will be held
responsible for those whom he does not try to dissuade from their sins. In the
epistle Paul in turn reminds us that Christians must be careful to avoid sin and
to observe the commandments, which are summed up in the saying, "You shall love
your neighbor as yourself". Even the Psalmist joins in the chorus, faithfully
reporting the warning of the Lord: "Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as
on the day of Massah in the desert. There your ancestors tested me; they tried
me though they had seen my works".
Each of these texts delivers a stern notice with regard to our responsibility
not only to avoid sin, but to help others recover from their sin and shun it in
the future. This is the challenging point of our Church's teaching this Sunday:
everyone knows that we are to avoid sin, but we are called to do much more than
that; we have a corresponding duty to help others be reconciled to the Lord
after sinning-and that is asking a lot!
In the Gospel St. Matthew takes what we have heard in the earlier readings a
step further: he describes our Lord's preaching on the subject of sins
committed by fellow Christians and the efforts toward their conversion which
every believer is required to make. A desire for reconciliation within the
community is expressed by Christ which makes it clear that the whole Church
bears responsibility in this respect: "If he refuses to listen to [two or three
witnesses], tell the Church". This is a lofty calling, but one which must be
taken up by every baptized disciple of Jesus.
If that is not challenging enough, next we consider what the Lord says about
those who do not "listen to the Church": he tells us: "...treat him as you
would a Gentile or a tax collector". Now in Matthew's Gospel Jesus does speak
sharply of the Gentiles (10:5), yet he also heals the son of the pagan centurion
(8:5-13) and the daughter of the Canaanite woman (15:21-28). Further, Jesus
tells his disciples to "make disciples of all the nations..." (28:19), naturally
including the Gentiles.
This appears to teach us that if we are to be faithful to the example of the
Lord then we must extend opportunities for reconciliation and forgiveness even
to those who at first rebuff our efforts at healing. If we do so
consistently-and out of love for Christ who forgave even his persecutors-then we
can be sure that with the Lord's blessing our efforts will eventually succeed,
and will contribute to the growth in unity and charity of the living Body of
Christ which is the Church.
Fr. Edward Mazich, O.S.B.