HOMILY, 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR A.
Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20
THEME: FRATERNAL LOVE AND MUTUAL OBLIGATION TOWARD ONE ANOTHER
Today’s liturgy focus on fraternal love and the mutual obligation that we have toward one another. As Christians, we are not just called to live a good life but we also have the obligation and the responsibility to help others too to live a good life.
As Christians, we are not to close our eyes and pretend as if it is not our business whenever we see our neighbours going wrong. We have the mutual obligation toward one another. The Bible tells us that Christians are God’s representatives (cf. 2 Corr 5:20). Christians are also salt and light to all mankind, therefore we must let this light shine before people (cf. Matt 5:13-16). So, God has entrusted to us the grave responsibility of bringing others to Him. We are bound to help others on the road to heaven by our good example and charitable advice. We have the obligation to warn our neighbour when we see them in danger of loosing their faith. The intention is not to accuse them but to help them to amend their ways of life and be reconciled with God. This is what is called a fraternal love.
Fraternal love means loving others with a brotherly love. Since we are responsible for one another, it is our duty as Christians not to remain silent in the face of evil especially when silence can be taken to mean that we approve of what is happening. In that case we share responsible for the evil.
We, like prophet Ezekiel, by virtue of our baptism, must be our brother’s keepers. We have the obligation to correct them when we see them doing evil. In doing that we must not do it to humiliate or ridicule them, but it must be done in love and compassion, as the second reading of today tells us to have a genuine love for one another. Therefore, the best way to exercise our love for our neighbours is to correct them fraternally and introduce them to Christ. This fraternal correction is not optional at all, it is obligatory that our own salvation depends upon it, as God warns us through Prophet Ezekiel in today’s first reading. We are made to know, from the reading, that failure to preach to those who are doing evil may even cost us our own salvation. It is as serious as that.
Unfortunately, there are far too many Christians today who pay no heed to the serious obligation of encouraging an erring brother to give up his sinful ways. We don’t feel obliged to help people from committing sin, we think that keeping ourselves from sin is enough. We should remember that we are our brothers’ keepers. So, we are bound by charity to introduce others to Christ.
The gospel reading of today also recommends strongly that every effort is to be made to bring the erring person to repentance: first in private, then before a few persons, finally before the whole community; i.e., the Church. Then, if the offender refuses to listen to even the Church, he should been seen as a pagan. This is Christ’s recommendation for us Christians. But instead of applying this principle of Christ, today Christians resort to gossiping, forgetting that gossip kills and irreparably tarnishes people’s reputations. The Bible tells us “Do not speak ill of one another,” (James 4:11). Gossip is not something innocent; it is ugly and reprehensible. It is devilish seeing Christians celebrating the downfall of their fellow Christians. When a Christian fell into sin, instead of helping him to stand we even march on him. Sometimes we harbour grudges and refuse to forgive those who offended us, forgetting that we are giving our so called enemies power over us when we refuse to forgive. We are giving them power over our sleep, our appetite, our blood pleasure, our health, and our happiness. Our unforgiving spirit is not hurting them, but hurting and destroying ourselves.
Today, Jesus is inviting us to be extra-generous while correcting or dealing with an erring person. We are to go extra mile in bringing back a person who has gone astray, rather than condemn him/her. This soft approach towards the erring person is what Jesus recommends for us Christians. Sometimes when a wrongdoer refuses to listen to us, the fault may be ours. Our approach may not be good enough. So, when we correct people, we need to do so with respect and love, without unnecessarily hurting their feelings. Let us do everything in love. Our evident love and kindness may touch and soften even a hardened sinner, since our object is not to score a victory over him but to win him over to God. Perhaps the person is not aware that he is doing wrong.
The obligation of bringing others to Christ falls on all Christians, and most especially parents at home, because parents are everything to their children especially at their tender age. Today, unfortunately, many of our children have lost interest in the things of God because of the parents carelessness and laxity in faith. Of course, when parents are loyal to their faith in their daily lives, their children will, as a rule, be loyal to it too. The child who grows up in a home where Christianity is truly lived will retain the Christian faith taught by his parents. But where parents are careless and lax, their children will be still more careless and more lax. This is dangerous, because any parents that give bad example to their children would be responsible for their sins before God.
Lastly, the tone of the command of Jesus to treat the offender who refused reconciliation as a pagan and to be excommunicated from the community often misinterpreted. People wrongly conclude that all who disagree with them, after making some efforts to reconcile with them and seem not working, should simply be cut off and be ignored. For them this is a license to keep malice. But this is not correct. The passage does not suggest that there is a limit to forgiveness; no time a man can be abandoned as beyond hope. There is no way Jesus could give a particular limit to forgiveness. To treat someone as a pagan, we should first of all ask ourselves, ‘how did Jesus treat the sinners and pagans?’ Jesus never hated them or treated them badly. He showed them compassion and love. This is also a challenge to us to pity that stubborn brother or sister of ours and to show them more and more love. We should see those who deliberately refuse or reject reconciliation as seriously sick persons. Therefore, they need more of our prayers than talking. When every attempt to reconcile has proved abortive, we should continue to pray patiently for them because only prayer can dispose them to follow God’s way. But remember, we can only be patient to this extent if only we know the value of a soul before God.
May the Holy Spirit make us zealous and passionate about wining souls for God, and may we ourselves never be cast away on the last day. Amen!