Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A
by Fr. Claude Perera, OMI


First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9
The Son of Man Is Appointed the Guardian Over Israel.

Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 95:1-2,6-9
Praising God for the Gift of Salvation.

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10
The Commandment to Love One’s Neighbor as Oneself Is the Summary of the Law

Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:15-20
Settling disputes in the Church.

Background of the Readings and Homily

Today’s Gospel reading is taken from the Discourse on the Church in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus speaks more directly about a matter pertaining to Church discipline, disputes, and order. The Gospel of Matthew used the Greek word ekklesia (‘church/community’) three times. The first use was in the context of Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus appointed him as the head of the Church. The other two occurrences are in today’s gospel related to fraternal correction which was an issue in the Matthean Christian community.

In the first part of the “Discourse on the Church” (Mt 18:1-14), Matthew addresses the Christian community’s concerns about offices in the ecclesial community and proposes the ideal of child-like humility. Then, he moves on to the duty of leaders not to lead the littles ones astray. He buttresses his argument with the Parable of the Lost Sheep, showing the responsibility of the Church leadership to go after the lost sheep, which is a typical Matthean flavour As Matthew’s main theological strand was the Church.

Today’s Gospel (Mt 18:15-20), found in the latter half of the Discourse on the Church addresses a dispute between two members of the Church. Jesus gives the procedure to resolve such a situation. The accuser ought to first try privately settle the matter without any outsiders. When that does not work, the accuser should bring two or three witnesses and confront the accused. If no settlement is arrived at, then the matter should be brought to the attention of the entire community. If the accused does not listen to the community, s/he may be expelled from the Church. It was not a sporadic condemnation after a rash judgment. The accused was given sufficient hearing and time to amend his/her ways in the spirit of charity that existed in the community. Her/his unrelenting stubbornness led him to total alienation.

Roots of Christianity are in the OT which was essentially a communitarian religion. The Christian notion of community is based in the profound communion that exists among the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Jesus wanted his disciples also to reflect that Trinitarian community in his Church. Jesus ended today’s gospel passage saying, “If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three meet in my name, I am there among them.” Jesus does not ask his disciples to make their petitions alone as single individuals, but as a community. He assures of his presence where the community meets. For Christianity even as for Judaism everything becomes communitarian.

Jesus further said, “In truth I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:18) The form of the Greek verbs “you bind” and “you lose” is plural. In Christianity, the forgiveness of sins is communitarian. Sin should be understood not as a private offence to God alone because we are a community. When we sin, we offend the community, sometimes, directly, sometimes indirectly. In seeking forgiveness also, it is not enough simply asking God’s forgiveness. How do we ask the forgiveness of the ecclesial community? It is for this that we have the ministerial priesthood, members of which are publicly designated and ordained as leaders of the Church. They represent the community. We go to them to receive forgiveness in the name of the whole community, the Church against whom we have offended. The priest obtains pardon for all our sins on behalf of God.

In today’s first reading, Ezekiel spoke of an OT perspective of this truth. God told Ezekiel that He has appointed Ezekiel as a watchman over the House of Israel. A watchman watches over the household against the attacks of the enemy. The watchman has a duty of warning people of possible dangers not only external, but also internal. He warns them when they violate the covenant. This is a prophetic function entrusted to him by God in the interests of the community. He is God’s voice for the community. As a prophet, he announces God’s salvation and denounces divine judgment on people. This was no easy job. If he keeps quiet, he will fail by his duty and responsibility. On the other hand, people were expected to listen to him. But in fact, they hardly listened to him. That is why they lost their land, the temple and were exiled.

In the second reading of today, Paul writing to the Romans says, “Do not owe anything to anyone except to love one another.” Loving God and neighbour is the basic call of the Judeo-Christian faith. We have an obligation towards all in charity. This means charitably pointing out someone’s mistakes and bringing her/him back to the fold. It may be a slow and long process. Jesus wants us to persuade everyone to love and forgive. Let us keep trying to listen to this call.

Happy Sunday! Bon Dimanche! Buona Domenica! Schönen Sonntag! Gelukkige Zondag! Szczęśliwej Niedzieli! Sretna Nedjelja!

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