23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – Sept. 10, 2023

 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A – Sept. 10, 2023

Ezekiel 33: 7-9; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20

 

Theme: Reconciliation with God and with our Fellow Humans

Today is the second Sunday of the Celebration of the Month of the Word of God. Let us recall that the Catholic Church has dedicated the month of September to the Word of God. So, worldwide, we celebrate the month of the Bible this month. The theme I chose for the month of the Word of God this year is “Why We Should Always Forgive and Reconcile with Those Who Sin Against Us”. The Church exhorts all faithful Christians to venerate the Word of God in the Church as well as in our families. First, in the liturgy of the Mass, we are called to celebrate the Word of God with reverence and participate in it actively. This means we should listen attentively when God speaks to us in the scripture readings and pay attention to the priest or deacon when they interpret the Word of God to us in homilies. Second, our Mother Church encourages all parishes to establish Bible Study groups to give opportunities to the faithful to meditate, read, and study the Word of God. Since July 1st of this year when I was officially appointed your pastor, I have promised you and prepared all of us that we will start a Weekly Bible Study Group in our parish with me. So, Friday, September 1st was the official start. Note that our Weekly Bible Study group is not only for the month of September but for all the months. We meet every Friday at 6: 00 p.m. in the conference room in the office to meditate, study, and share the Gospel that will be read that weekend. Third, the Church also urges all families to venerate the Word of God at home. I recommend a “Family Bible Corner” which I think is the best option to better celebrate the Word of God in our families. A “Family Bible Corner” is a suitable place that you prepare in one corner of your living room where you display an opened Bible. It could be a small table, for example, covered with a white tablecloth (or any liturgical colors: red, purple, green, or white), well decorated with flowers, candles, and maybe with a crucifix or rosary). The family Bible Corner should be visible to anyone who enters the house. Its purpose is to remind the household members and guest visitors that the Word of God is the center of your family. This Family Bible Corner can also be used as the place where the family meets together for family prayer, Bible sharing, or any gathering.

The Scripture readings of last Sunday taught us how we, Christians, should respond to the love of God. Like Jesus who accepted to die on the cross to save us, we too should accept to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God for the sake of the people of God. Our sacrifice and all the good works that we do in our Church, neighborhoods, and families are our responses to the love of God.

Today’s Bible readings teach us how and why we should always seek reconciliation with God and with one another. Like prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading, we too are appointed “watchmen” and “watchwomen” for our brothers and sisters to always warn them of the wickedness that leads to our death. In our Gospel, Jesus instructs us to follow a three-step process in our effort to seek reconciliation with those who sin against us. Both reconciliations (with God and with our fellow humans) are not something easy to do. We need to have great love to succeed. Saint Paul, in our second reading, exhorts us to love one another. Today, we heard the voice of God calling us to fulfill our prophetic mission which consists of reconciling with God and with our brothers and sisters. Then, the responsorial psalm reminds us to not harden our hearts.  

Prophet Ezekiel, in our first reading, receives a calling from God to warn his people of their wrongdoings and invite them to reconcile with God. In his time, like in our time today, people transformed wrong deeds into virtues. What God and the Church call sins are what people like to do and even force societies to recognize them as virtues. Should the Church and all of us Christians let them continue to live in a state of sin? No! Our first reading teaches us that God gives us the same mission that he gave to the prophet Ezekiel to openly warn our brothers and sisters of wickedness that leads to our death. This mission aims to invite all people to be reconciled with God and be saved.  

However, it is sad to notice that many of us feel uncomfortable and unsafe to speak of sins that are widespread and popular in our culture. We prefer to be liked by everyone and protect our reputation than to warn our brothers and sisters of their wrongdoings. Many parents and schoolteachers choose the option of not correcting their teenagers and students because they fear to hate their feelings. Today, those who speak out on popular sins risk their job, reputations, and friendships. When we choose not to warn people of their sins, we need to know that mortal sins are like cancer. If we do not stop them earlier, they will spread out over our societies, cities, parishes, and families. And if we think that it is out of love that we do not warn the wicked people because we avoid hating their feelings, we should know that this is not true love.  If we love people, we will not let them turn away from God and lose eternal salvation one day.

We may say that it is not our business when people sin against God. However, our first reading teaches us that when we do not warn the people of their wickedness, the negative consequence does not impact them only but us as well. God says to Ezekiel, “When I say to the wicked, “You wicked, you must die,” and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood.” (Ezekiel 33: 8). When we do our prophetic mission well, we do not try to save only the people we correct, but ourselves too. This is what God says to Ezekiel, “If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life.” (V. 9). So, running away from our call as prophets of God because we avoid hating those we love and because we want to protect our jobs, reputation, and friendships is not a good option. We learn that God may hold us responsible for their condemnation. Remember, the goal is the eternal salvation of all of us. Therefore, the prophetic mission of all of us the Baptized Christians is to call the people and us to abandon wicked deeds and accept reconciliation with God.

We are not just “the prophet Ezekiel” who warn other people of their sins, but we are also among the people who should accept the warning from others. We are all sinners, and we all need reconciliation with God. This reading teaches us that we all are called to accept warnings of the “prophet Ezekiel” of our time (priests, parents, teachers, catechists, and our brothers and sisters) even when it is painful to hear them speaking to us of our sins directly. It takes courage and humility to receive corrections from others, especially about sins that we think nobody knows.  

While our first reading focuses on warning the people who sin against God and bringing them to reconcile with him (God), the Gospel that we heard concentrates on the people who sin against us and calls us to initiate reconciliation with them. Notice first how Jesus reverses orders here. It is not those who sin against us who are supposed to come to us, but we are the ones to go to them (see v. 15). It takes a lot of humility and great love to do that. Jesus did it and he wants us his followers to do the same.  

Jesus recommends threefold steps to seek out reconciliation. In the first step, Jesus recommends a private conversation with those who sin against us. This is contrary to what many of us do. When offended, usually our tendency is first to tell our friends. We should know that this practice does not make any progress toward reconciliation but rather continues to spread the circle of the offense. We need to prioritize a one-on-one conversation but not spread the matter around. In case this one-on-one conversation fails, our Lord asks us to proceed to the second step, which is taking one or two people and involving them in our process of reconciliation. If this second step still does not bring reconciliation, then Jesus instructs us to tell the Church who has the power to treat someone as “Gentile or tax collector”. The expression “Gentiles and tax collectors” here refers to those who are declared outside of the communion of the Church. Today it is called “ex-communication”. Now, what to do with the “Ex-communicated people”? Does Jesus ask us to abandon the process of reconciliation with them?

Note that in the verses preceding our Gospel passage (vv. 10-14), Jesus already told his disciples the parable of the lost sheep among the flock of one hundred. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine others and goes to seek out the lost one. The analogical sense of this parable is that this caring shepherd is God. The ninety-nine sheep are the Jews who are in the covenant with God (today we will say all of us Christians who are in a new covenant with God through Jesus). The one lost sheep represents Gentiles, tax collectors, and all other sinners who were considered outside of God’s covenant. Today, this “lost sheep” represents all those who are not members (including the ex-communicated) of the Church which is the Body of Christ. The parable emphasizes the great effort of the “caring shepherd (God) who goes to seek out all those who are outside of the communion of the Church and bring them in. So, in our Gospel passage, when Jesus recommends treating the wicked people as “Gentiles and tax collectors” after failing in all threefold attempts, he just calls us to consider them as “the lost sheep”. And we, like the caring shepherd of the parable (vv. 10-14), our mission is to go and seek them out until we find them and bring them back in the sheepfold which is the communion with God and Church members. So, we are called to evangelize and minister to the sinners and ex-communicated (Gentiles and tax collectors).

Today’s first reading emphasizes the reconciliation with God, and the Gospel, the reconciliation with our fellow humans. To achieve both reconciliations, it takes a lot of sacrifice, courage, humility, and especially great love to warn the people of their sins against God and to seek reconciliation with those who sin against us. This is the love that Saint Paul exhorts us in our second reading. He asks us to love one another. For him, love fulfills all the commandments (Romains 13: 8-10).  

May this liturgy of the Mass enable us to continue to work on reconciliation with God and with our fellow humans with great love without getting weary. Amen.  

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

 

 

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