23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (10/09/17)
Open our ears, O Lord, to hear your word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills that we may serve you now and always. Amen.
When I read the Gospel reading for today in preparing for this homily I was struck with how pertinent it is to some events that have taken place in my life recently and I am sure that when you heard it many of you may have been struck with similar feelings.
Throughout our lives I’m sure that all of us have been confronted with situations where we have felt wronged by others, or where we feel others have sinned against us. From observation, when hurt it seems to be human nature to let it be known to the multitudes that we’re not happy. I’ve seen many a person spread their discontent amongst others and attempt to turn them down the path that they are treading. However, in the reading we have just heard, the righteous Christian needs to curb the natural desire for sympathy from others and support for our position. Christ gives His followers a totally different path to follow that consists of three straight forward steps.
Firstly, if we’re offended we need to go to the person who offended us and talk to them about it. No mention is made of talking to others first, no mention of gossiping or spreading your hurt, instead just a simple civil conversation. It should be the hope of every Christian that through our filial bonds any ill feeling can be resolved in this way; that hearts can be open enough to love to both give an apology and to accept it.
In my mind a key component of this step is to invite God into the conversation; before you go to talk with someone whom you feel has wronged you time should be spent in prayer. We should approach God and ask Him to not only soften the offender’s heart, but to soften our own so that we may be aware of our own role in this process and be ready to listen with a Christlike ear to what’s said. However, as I’m sure you’re aware these things aren’t always so easily solved and so Christ gives a path to follow is this conversation does not bring the satisfaction we think is needed.
The second step in the process of healing the wounds of wrongs or injustices once private civil conversation has been exhausted is to go to one or two friends, tell them of the situation and ask if they will come with you when you talk to the one who has offended you. Again, Christ doesn’t say to talk far and wide or to convince others of the righteousness of our cause; He simply states that we need to take one or two people with us. If the people we take aren’t to support us and “back us up” what are they for? The Gospel today is clear, they are there to listen, to hear both sides, and to bear witness to what was said if further steps to resolution need to be taken. As the scripture says the truth of things need to be established through two or three witnesses, not on the word of one individual against another.
Something that I think is essential to point out about this step is that its purpose is further conversation between the one who feels offended and the supposed offender; it isn’t an opportunity for the witnesses to pass judgement or force an apology. Like the first step this second is based on filial love and affection, on Christian virtue. Love and the Spirit should always be our guide.
If there is no resolution through this conversation with witnesses then the Gospel tells us that we need to take our complaint to the Church. I wonder, does this mean that when we go to Mass we need to tell everyone that person X has hurt us and that they’re a bad person? I would certainly hope that no one reads this scripture this way! Correction of sin and wrongdoing is always a very private matter. Instead to “take it to the Church” means going to talk with our Parish Priest or another official in the Church and seek their assistance in this matter. This of course should be a final step after all other options have been exhausted. Why is it so essential that every effort has been made to reconcile before bringing the Church into the difficulty?
The clue to this answer is in the phrase that follows Christ’s advice to involve the Church; He says:
“If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
This may seem like a very innocuous phrase to you and I but for the first century Jews that Christ was talking to this was a heavy sentence. If you were a Jew living at the time one of your many concerns was with purity, both ritual purity and moral purity. It was essential for you that you not be contaminated by the sin and wrongdoing of others; as a faithful Jew you would not want to be associated too closely with the Gentiles (non-Jews) or those Jews in league with Gentiles, such as the Jews employed by Rome to collect their taxes. So Christ is telling us that if our cause is judged righteous by the Church and an offender is not willing to accept their wrong and reconcile then they are to be treated as outsiders; in other words, that we should put them out of our mind and move on.
Wow, what a sentence! But, does this mean that we to stop loving the person or hoping that repentance and reconciliation may occur at another time? Of course it doesn’t; if I know anything about God it is that He is full of love and mercy and always wants us to be likewise. What Christ is asking us to do is not to dwell on the issue. Instead He wants us to move on and get on with life and not to spread hate or draw others away or down into what could turn into our own pits of despair and discontent.
It’s my prayer brothers and sisters, that as followers of Christ, we can keep ourselves from spreading rumours, even if they are true. Christ has given us a righteous process for dealing with the wrongs of others done towards us and it does not include drawing others into the situation.
Please join me as we pray:
Father in Heaven, we ask that you may always be with us to heal our hurts and open our hearts to your righteous process of justice. May our tongues not lead us into sin and offense against you or our brethren and sisters. May our hearts always be open to your love and may we extend the love that you show us to every one of your children. We ask this of you in and through the name of your beloved Son our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.