Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (10/09/2023)
(Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)
Fr. Samuel Odeh
“. .that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
All believers consider it important to be in a good relationship with God and neighbor. Today’s readings deal with maintaining such good relationships and restoring them when they have been broken. It is a sacred duty to pray for and work for peace and understanding among the ourselves as people of God. In today’s first reading, God appoints the prophet Ezekiel to be a watchman to the house of Israel to warn them of their wicked ways. If they listen and change their lives they will not die in their sins. In other words, offense is not taken when none is given. Although ignorance of God’s laws reduces the guilt of our wrongdoings, our sins still remain bad. Ignorance alone does not exonerate “the wicked” but the prophet in us is to blame if we do not take our calling to share God’s message seriously. While God has his ways of rescuing those who have never had the holy word given to them, God also does some rescuing of other persons through us. Are we committed and loving enough to make ourselves available to this task?
One challenge when it comes to mending relationships is what we often describe as a “hardened heart” or a stubborn heart. This has to do with an inability or lack of the needed resources to let go of wrongs done to us, or a need for a change in perspectives and values. Our responsorial psalm today is a reflection on this issue and is based upon the story of Israel’s frequent infidelity to God as they journeyed through the desert to the promised land.
In the second reading from Romans, Paul gives us the primary ingredient we need to bring about reconciliation with one another and to keep God’s laws: “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). No true believer should prefer hatred to love, and so practicing peacemaking and maintaining healthy relationships is itself a duty placed on us by God.
In today’s gospel reading Jesus outlines a process for us Christians to attempt reconciliation: “If your brother sins against you…” (Matthew 18:15). First, Jesus recommends that if the offense given is a private matter, then the attempt to bring about peace between both parties should also remain private. It is important here to remember that we all have pride, and so a self righteous attitude or a refusal to admit the possibility of our part in the conflicts that tear us apart from each other is not enough. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the other party we disagree with is as deserving of God’s mercies just as we are as children of God. If our first attempt fails to bring about forgiveness and healing, we are to attempt again, this time with the help of two or three witnesses. If even that fails, we are to take the matter to the church, that is the community of Christian believers. This is one of three times that the word “church” is used in the entire Gospel according to Matthew. If finally reconciliation has still not taken place between us, even at the intervention of the church, then the ones who are stubborn of heart, are by that very fact no longer in good standing with the church.
Are we ready to carry our share of heavy load in bringing about peace within ourselves and between ourselves? We are not called to walk on eggshells at all times, but becoming caring and loving persons places certain demands on us with respect to God and our neighbors. Reconciling with another demands humility and sacrifices like that of Christ “..who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame...” (Hebrews 12:2). Furthermore, if we agree to engage others for the sake of reconciliation and peacemaking in the presence of Christ through common prayer, nothing will be impossible for us to achieve. May the Spirit of Christ continue to work its miracle of reconciliation in and through the Church. May we love our individual selves properly and in such a way as to make it possible to share that love with others.
“For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility…” (Ephesians 2:14).