Father Leslie Hoppe, OFM

Sept. 10: 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Do more for God

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

Among the documents known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, there is one that scholars call the “Manual of Discipline.” It describes the community life of the people who lived in a Jewish religious community along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea at the time of Christ.

The manual describes the community’s organization, its leadership, the obligations of members, its religious rituals, the initiation of new members and other aspects of the community’s life. It is fair to say that Matthew 18 was the early church’s “Manual of Discipline.”

Today’s Gospel reading, along with the reading from Ezekiel and the responsorial Psalm, alludes to the discipline that is an essential component of community life. These Scriptures underscore the importance of the church and its discipline in our life with God.

There is no way for an individual to be a Christian without an active connection with the community of faith. The church has an irreplaceable role in all aspects of our life with God. It determines the way we worship and oversees the way we hand on the faith to the next generation.

The church upholds the moral values of the Gospel. It chooses and supports the community’s leaders who oversee the varied ministries of the community.

The church exercises the prophetic role described by Ezekiel (Ez 3:7). It is the sentinel keeping watch over the Christian faithful to ensure that their hearts do not become closed to the word of God (Ps 95:1).

Through its leaders, the church binds and looses, encourages, admonishes, and corrects the Christian faithful as described in Mt 18:15-20. These leaders are to oversee adherence to the church’s discipline with understanding and compassion. Condemnations, punishments, anathemas are not effective means of returning a lost sheep to the fold. The model for the church’s leadership is the Good Shepherd who leaves the 99 and seeks out the one lost sheep (Mt 18:12).

Over the centuries, the church’s discipline has evolved. For example, a central element of the reform of the liturgy is the active participation of the laity in the church’s worship. This led to the introduction of the vernacular in place of Latin as the language of our worship.

Laypeople proclaim the Scriptures and distribute Holy Communion at Mass — tasks that were once reserved to the clergy. The introduction of the permanent diaconate has raised the level of the church’s ministries of charity. The Lenten fast is no longer an obligation, but its observance is a personal act of piety. The eucharistic fast has been modified to make the reception of Holy Communion less burdensome.

The evolution of the church’s discipline is a response to the signs of the times and a recognition that “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13:10). Paul’s words call for a new level of generosity and commitment from the Christian faithful.

If love is the measure of our generosity and commitment, our response to God cannot be limited by the Ten Commandments and the church’s precepts. We can never say, “I’ve done all that God expects of me” or “I’ve done enough.” Duties and obligations should not circumscribe our response to what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

We look to the cross, which teaches us that we cannot be satisfied with simply meeting our obligations. Yes, we ought to obey the commandments and respect the church’s discipline, but these set minimal standards for the Christian faithful. They are the least we can do.

The love of God revealed in Jesus Christ elicits from us more, much more. We should not ask, “What are my obligations? What am I required to do?” Instead, we ought to ask, “What more can I do for the Lord for all that the Lord has done for me?”

This is the kind of question that generous and committed Christians ask of themselves. The answer is, of course, that we can never match God’s love for us. The Christian life then is trying to do what we know is impossible. That, however, does not stop us since “the love of Christ urges us” (2 Cor 5:14).


  • scripture