23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
The second reading for today’s Mass sets the tone for our Gospel reflection. St. Paul writing to the Romans (Romans 13:8-10) says, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”.
Today’s readings are about love; not about the kind of hearts and flowers love that so many of our songs and movies are about, but the nitty gritty stuff. They are about tough love;
• love that challenges and supports,
• love the speaks the truth,
• love that forgives and reconciles,
the kind of love that Jesus challenged us to have when he said in the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 5:44), “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
What do we feel when the bonds of love are broken, relationships strained? How do we deal with hurt and the pain? Today’s Gospel is are about personal sin and how that sin affects not just a relationship but a whole system of relationships that we call community.
God tells Ezekiel in today’s first reading (Reading I: Ezekiel 33:7-9) that he must admonish the sinner not just to save the sinner but to save Israel, because ultimately, personal sin, selfishness and greed will destroy the nation.
St. Paul tells the divided Christian community the same thing: bitterness, anger, jealousy will destroy the community, the Church. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments… 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.”.
And Jesus tells his disciples today that they should reconcile their differences, forgive each other, so that the community can be at peace. If individuals cannot deal with the problem, then the community must help them find a way to reconcile with each other.
I think we all know what can happen when things are not reconciled. The anger and hurt continues to build. It is fueled by resentment and jealousy and getting even by returning the hurt in kind. It can become spirited, trying to ruin the credibility and reputation of the other person. Rumors and gossip in a family, among co-workers, in a community often spring from unresolved hurts and end up causing division.
Today, Jesus lays out a detailed plan in the Gospel of how to help someone within the Christian community who has done you harm. This plan applies to whatever the damage was: saying unfair things behind your back, embarrassing you in public, stealing, unfaithfulness, you name it.
First, go to the person and let him or her know that you have been hurt by what they did or said. This is not an opportunity to let my anger out or to get my rights, or worse, to hurt them in return. It is an attempt to repair the relationship, no matter whose fault it was. It is an effort to help, not hurt; I time of challenge and support.
But what if going to the person does not succeed? Jesus says you should next take two or three witnesses along. They will back you up if your interpretation of the problem is correct.
If the person still does not listen, keep trying, Jesus says. Tell the Church, the community. Continue to work on it until the matter is worked out. Let truth and forgiveness rule.
Even if that doesn’t work Jesus seems to want the individuals and communities to keep on trying. At the end of the process Jesus tells his disciples that if there isn’t a reconciliation than the offender should be treated as a gentile or a tax collector. In the time of Jesus this would have meant they were to be shunned or ignored.
However, what Jesus may be seen as an ironic statement. You can almost see a wink in his eye as he speaks it. If you remember, one of the things the Scribes and Pharisees held against Jesus was that he talked with foreigners and gentiles and that he ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors. Could Jesus have meant if the usual ways of dealing with a situation do not work, don’t give up, find another way. Try carrying on the dialogue, don’t close doors or burn bridges.
God wanted Ezekiel to admonish the sinners because of God’s love for them and because of the potential harm that could be done to Israel.
Paul was writing because of his concern for unity in the Church. The church would not survive if its members didn’t love one another and care for each other’s spiritual and moral well-being.
Jesus taught his disciples about forgiveness and reconciliation because of his love for each person, that none be lost, and that there be unity in the Church, and among all people.
Today’s lesson, although meant for the harmony and unity of the Church is a lesson for the world in which we live and for our own nation as we face difficult times together, times in which we should be working together to find a way forward instead of condemning and fighting with one another.
Most often when we celebrate a national holiday like Labour Day, we are not aware of the roots of the holiday, or what it might mean for us today. This weekend in recognizing the dignity of work we are also reminded that this holiday celebrates what we can accomplish as a nation when business and labor work together for the common good.
That process has not been easy and in some instances very difficult, but we have been able to build a great nation on a willingness to work with each other.
The call of today’s Gospel is a challenge for us to make our love for one another real and realistic; to recognize the differences, reconcile the hurts and move forward together as a church, as a nation, so that we can be a model and hope for the world around us. But as today’s Gospel challenges us it also supports us. Jesus said,
“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”.