23rd Sunday OTA

Ez 33: 7-9; Rom 13: 8-10; Mt 18: 15-20
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Jennifer watched as the cashier rang up her purchases. “Cash, check or charge?” She asked after folding the items Jennifer had bought. As she fumbled for her wallet the cashier noticed a television remote control in her purse. “Do you always carry your TV remote?” The cashier asked. “No,” she replied, “but my husband refused to come shopping with me, and I figured this was the best retaliation.”

In our first reading today, God explains to his prophet Ezekiel his responsibility as a prophet. Ezekiel must warn God’s people of their sinful ways or he will be held accountable. It is a prelude to the gospel where Jesus instructs his followers how to help each other stay on the right track. St. Paul’s teaching on love in our second reading reminds us that if we should try to correct one another, it should be done out of love.

“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another…Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” St. Paul is perfectly right, because the Kingdom of God is ruled by love and a Christian community that does not glow with love is unsatisfactory. But what is love? Paul himself tells us, “Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous…” I Cor 13:4. Today let us take a few minutes to reflect love is concern.

Love as concern shows itself in the interest we take for the welfare of others and in the help we offer to be better Christians. Such a loving concern will sometimes also take the form of warning someone who is doing evil. Suppose a mother caught her five-year old daughter with a stolen chocolate bar just after they returned from the supermarket. One natural reaction of the mother would be to do nothing or to pretend the problem is not there. An alternative reaction may be to shun and reject the daughter out of hand, even to hate her. But both reactions would not be Christian. A loving Christian reaction would be that the mother warns the child about the evils of stealing and have the child return the candy to the supermarket manager and apologize. “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicket from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death” (Ezek 33:8) said the Lord to the prophet. This is a harsh warning to those who neglect their Christian responsibility to help another to move away from evil ways.

Love as concern is not having nice feelings for one another. It will mean at times the moral obligation of correcting one who has fallen into a serious misconduct. In today’s gospel Jesus tells, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”

Modern believers tend to think that they have no right to intervene in the private lives of their fellow believers; so they pay no heed to the serious obligation of encouraging an erring brother or sister to give up his or her sinful ways. Others evade the issue saying, “As a sinner, I don’t have the moral courage or the right to correct someone else.” But Jesus emphatically affirms that we are our brothers’ keepers, and we have the serious obligation to correct one another. Have we offered advice and encouragement to our friends and neighbors and coworkers when it was needed, and loving correction in private where that was possible?

Love as concern has another beauty. It will draw people together to pray. If personal prayer is the breath of faith, community prayer is the lungs of the church. After ending the matter of correcting one another, Jesus makes immediately a promise: “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” This means that if the offender and the offended join together in a community prayer and pray for peace, there is a great possibility of ending the quarrel.

We experience a lot of broken relationships in our lives. We have them in our families between husbands and wives, parents and children. We face them between employers and employees, with neighbors, different ethnic and social groups, between nations. What is the solution? Is there a way to repair the breach, to rebuild the bridge, to restore the relationship? I believe God gives us a vital key to restore relationships. And that key is love. In essence, it is living out the Great Commandment to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor as you love yourself. It means focusing on God and other people, not self. Let us pray for unity and peace.

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