Homily for Mass – Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
(Saint John Fisher Church, Tarragindi: Sunday 9:00am;
Mary Immaculate Church, Annerley: Sunday 5:00pm)
7 September 2014
(Readings: Ez 33:7-9; Ps 94; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20)
Over the years, campaigns to stop drink driving have reminded us of our responsibility towards others. “Friends don’t let friends drink and drive,” and such like. If we truly are friends with someone, then we have a responsibility towards them.
Christians have a responsibility towards others as well. And each of our readings today reminds us of that responsibility. We could summarize those responsibilities as the responsibility to speak, to respect, and to heal.
In the first reading we hear of the responsibility to speak. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of being appointed by the Lord as “sentry to the House of Israel.” The role of a sentry, or watchman, was to warn of danger. This reminds us of our Christian responsibility – and indeed our moral duty – to speak the truth about right and wrong, whether to society collectively or to individuals. There are a variety of modes in which we can do that, but as Christians we can’t sit back and be silent when there are attacks on innocent life, or when society is heading in the wrong moral direction, or when we see people we know damaging themselves. The Lord says, through Ezekiel, that we have a duty to speak. To say nothing makes us morally complicit in the wrong another does. If we speak and the person doesn’t listen, then we have done our duty. But we have a responsibility to speak the truth to each other.
Then there is the duty to respect each other. In the second reading today we hear Saint Paul naming some of the obligations that are summed up in the command to love our neighbour as ourself; he lists: do not commit adultery, do not kill, do not steal, do not covet, and so on. We could restate these in the positive: we have the responsibility to respect other people’s life, to respect other people’s marriages, to respect other people’s property, and to respect other people’s integrity.
The gospel today, then, gives us another responsibility: and that’s to heal; or as is described in the Gospel, tl deal with conflict constructively. In these paragraphs of Matthew’s Gospel we have an outline from Our Lord about how to deal with conflict. It is suggested that since St Matthew’s Gospel was written a little later than then others, the teaching it contains reflects the fact that the Christian community had moved beyond the initial – we might say – “honeymoon” period. The Church had to, very early on, grapple with the fact that conflicts would emerge between believers; even between good people, there would be disagreements. Whilst we might be disenchanted at first that the Church community is not perfect, we can take some consolation from the fact that Our Lord has provided us a way to deal with conflict. As Pope Francis has reminded us, the Church is like a field-hospital of wounded people – or, as others have put it, a school for sinners … the Church is a place where we seek healing, and strive for the holiness that is also ours. We know well that the Church – you and me – is at once holy, and yet also at the same time, always in need of purification.
So Our Lord has enumerated several steps to deal with conflict. The first is to put our complaint into words. “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves.” Jesus first urges us to sort the problem out privately. We know how easy it is to give into the temptation, when in a conflict situation, to speak to everyone else except the actual person involved. We gossip, slander, complain, engage in detraction, rather than actually speaking with the person who is the cause of our complaint.
Next, if speaking privately with our opponent doesn’t work, Our Lord urges us to find a third person who can help to bring about a resolution. Sometimes another person, who perhaps has no personal interest in the situation, can be a bridge between those who are at odds.
Later, if there is still no resolution, Our Lord says to take it to the authority. There are situations that must be brought before whatever official body that has a right to know about it.
In the end, if there is still no solution, we must pray for the person with whom we are in conflict, and we must leave them to God’s justice, to His judgment and His grace.
Whilst we may wish it to be otherwise, conflict is part and parcel of being human, and it will therefore be part of the life of the Church. But what the Gospel reminds us of today is that there is a Christian way to deal with conflict: a way that does not seek revenge, but rather the healing of conflict and the restoration of all parties to God’s peace and grace. The effort to heal both the discord itself and our opponent is a way of showing Christian maturity and Christian responsibility.
Our readings today teach us that we have a responsibility to others: a responsibility to speak, to respect and to heal. One thing that today’s readings can remind us is that Christian love is not an emotion or a feeling, but a responsibility and obligation. It is something we choose to do, empowered by God’s grace – realizing that alone we can do nothing.
May this eucharist sustain and help us to engage our Christian responsibilities as we navigate the often challenging situations of life.
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(Adapted from: S. Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire: The Sunday Homilies, Cycle A (Staten Island, NY: St. Paul, 2005).