Father Donald Senior, CP

Sept. 10: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Ez 33:7-9; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20


For the next two Sundays, the Gospel selections are from Chapter 18 of Matthew, the so-called “community discourse” — one of the most remarkable passages in the New Testament.  

As he makes his way toward Jerusalem and those final fateful days, Jesus instructs his disciples on what life should be like in the community formed in his name. Raymond E. Brown, one of the foremost Catholic biblical scholars of our era, described this discourse as “the most profound practical treatment of church in the New Testament.”

At the beginning of the discourse, which is not included in the Lectionary selection, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep, reminding the disciples that, like the shepherd in the story, God rejoices over the recovery of one who “goes astray.” Jesus concludes with a remarkable statement: “So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Mt 18:14). Here is a principle of care and compassion that characterizes the entire discourse.
The passage we have in today’s Gospel follows immediately upon this parable and saying of Jesus.  It deals frankly and practically with what to do when there is a serious conflict in a local church (or in a family, for that matter). 

“If a brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If your brother or sister listens to you, you have regained a brother or sister. If not … take one or two others along with you … If your brother or sister refuses to listen to them, tell it to the whole church (that is, the local community). And if this person should refuse to listen even to the church, “let such a one be to you as a Gentile or tax collector.”  

This is a common sense and progressive process, one that was already part of Jewish customs in Jesus’ day. The responsibility to deal forthrightly with those who commit a serious offense is part of the message of the first reading for this Sunday from the prophet Jeremiah. “Thus says the Lord … I have appointed watchmen for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.” The prophet was to perform his duties as the “watchman” by helping the wicked repent of their evil ways and bringing them back to life.

But Jesus does add one unique and characteristic note — if the perpetrator remains unrepentant and is a toxic force in the community or family, they may be asked to leave for the sake of the common good. But they are, even now, to be treated “like a Gentile or tax collector.” How is that, we might ask? In Matthew, as in all the Gospels, Jesus reaches out to tax collectors and Gentiles with compassion and understanding.  

In an earlier passage of Matthew, Jesus’ opponents call him “a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Mt 11:19). Even someone who has seriously disrupted the community and is forced to leave for the sake of the common good is not permanently shunned, but becomes an object of the community’s pastoral care. 
Jesus’ words today remind us that we are a very human community, whether we are referring to the church or our own families. There are conflicts and lasting wounds and we have to deal with them thoughtfully and prudently, sometimes even to intervene with “tough love.” No matter how difficult a circumstance may be, the Gospel urges us never to give up on the possibility of new life

The reason for striving for reconciliation is stated in the remarkable passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans that is the second reading for this Sunday. “Owe nothing to anyone,” Paul urges, “except to love one another for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” The commandments, Paul goes on, “are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”