Twenty Third Sunday Ordinary Time Year A
Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20
Fraternal correction and painful responsibility are the key words that help to focus on the message of this Sunday. There is a story told about a man who went into a restaurant and the waitress placed him at a table next to three girls. They were talking loud and swearing in the worst words. It sometimes seems like women's equality means imitating the worst in men. The man wanted to say something, but he held his tongue. When his breakfast arrived, he bowed his head and made of the sign of the cross. The swearing stopped immediately. Was that a miracle? No! I tell this story because the readings this Sunday focus on the painful responsibility of fraternal correction. In the first reading, the Lord sends his messenger as “watchman for the house of Israel” as a spokesperson of the Lord, to warn God’s people. The messenger of the Lord is sent to persuade the wicked from wrongdoing. If not, the Lord will hold the messenger responsible. The underlying message is that we are all responsible for one another in helping each other to remain faithful disciples of the Lord. Calling others to account when they do wrong or persist in wrongdoing is not easy. A man once approached St. Francis of Assisi and said, "Brother Francis, I am in a difficult situation. The Bible says we should rebuke sinners, but I see people sinning all the time. I don't feel like I should go around rebuking everybody." St. Francis thought and then said, "What you must do is live in such a way that your life rebukes the sinner - how you act will call others to repentance." You might be thinking, that's easy enough for St. Francis, but I am not saint. I am just an ordinary lay person. It is possible to correct without judging as you heard in the story. We ourselves must be living faithfully before we can call others to change their lives. The bottom line is that when we as disciples and stewards live the best version of our ourselves, that in itself like in the story persuades the wicked from wrongdoing.
In the Gospel of this Sunday, Jesus challenges us to point out the faults of others privately first, but publicly if necessary. Paul in the Second reminds us that we correct others out of love and concern for their spiritual wellbeing. Elsewhere Paul urges us to “Be kind and tender to one another. Forgive each other, just as God forgave you because of what Christ has done" (Ephesians 4:32). Then we are better able to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15). If as stewards of Jesus Christ we are living the best version of ourselves in our relationship with Christ, the zeal to invite others to such a relationship will drive us to speak up before others, inviting them to God’s mercy and forgiveness. In the words of St. Paul, true Christian love enables us to help each other become the best version of ourselves, without an attitude of superiority. So what message do we take home this Sunday? 1) As disciples and stewards, you and I have the painful responsibility of fraternal correction which entails “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). 2) This responsibility also involves our own personal conversion to Christ and a deeper relationship with God. 3) The response of St. Francis regarding fraternal correct is our best way of action - living in such a way that our life rebukes the sinner. In other words, being the best version of ourselves will invite others to change their wrongdoing and become the best version of themselves.
©2014 John S. Mbinda