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Friday, 5 September 2014

23rd Sunday Year A 2014

 23rd. Sunday of Year (A)
(Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

When the harmony of human life was shattered by sin, that mutual love which fostered harmony was forgotten, as each individual became more independent of, less concerned with, his or her neighbour, brother or sister.  As a result when God asked Cain:
             Where is Abel your brother?
Cain’s reply was:
             I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?    (Genesis 4:9)
… the very prototype of all ancient and modern ‘couldn’t care less’ and ‘look after number one first of all’ attitudes!
But in the Kingdom of God, in the new, restored, human community -- inaugurated by the sacrifice, and configured to the teaching, of Our Blessed Lord -- such cold indifference has no legitimate place, as the Gospel reading for today shows:
Jesus said to His disciples: ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two other along with you …..
Some ancient writers have understood that particular passage absolutely literally and proclaimed it as a serious commandment of the Lord in all its literal understanding; and indeed, they have declared with relentless logic that anyone sinned-against who would not go through such a procedure of confrontation, possibly with witnesses, was to be considered a much greater sinner than the one guilty of the original fault!
It is alas true, that even those who loved the Lord are found to have, at times, falsified His words unwittingly with an interpretation or accent of their own; as Father Faber laments in these famous verses of his:
For the love of God is broader Than the measure of our mind; 
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.
But we make His love too narrow By false limits of our own; 
And we magnify His strictness With a zeal He will not own.
Thanks to the work and achievement of modern scholarship we are now in a better position to understand, more accurately and more lovingly, that which previously our best virtue and most serious endeavours had only been able to hold-fast and hand-down literally and completely.
Today we know that St. Matthew had a particular community for which he wrote his Gospel memoirs of the Lord, and they are often referred to as Jewish Christians: former faithful followers of the Mosaic Law (as Jesus Himself had been brought up) and who had, through faith in Jesus as Son (of God) and Saviour, left the synagogue and gathered themselves into the Church in Jerusalem.
Now their background was far different from that of the pagans -- the rest of the world! -- for whom the letters of St. Paul and the Gospels of Mark, Luke and John were mainly addressed.   Had Jesus nothing to say to His own who had left all for Him, for those rejected by their former fellow Jews and perhaps not fully understood by their new-found fellow Christians?
Of course He had!  And St. John tells us in his Gospel (10:15s.) that Jesus taught:
I lay down My life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep that are not of this fold (to which He had devoted His own public ministry).  I must bring them also and they will listen to My voice (addressing them through My apostles),
and St. Matthew most earnestly desired to guide and sustain them in the ways of their chosen Lord and Saviour, their former fellow Jew, Jesus of Nazareth.
No other Gospel relates the words of Jesus read in today’s Gospel but the very clear teaching of Jesus which is the core of it can be seen in St. Luke’s Gospel:
If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry’, you should forgive him. (17:3-4)
Matthew had been appointed as ‘watchman’ for his congregation, to serve and to help save them; and they had lived their whole lives till then faithfully obeying the Law of Moses and following traditional Jewish practices.  Matthew had good reason to think that  – with Paul – he  too ‘had the mind of Jesus’:
 We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.  And we speak about them not with words taught by human wisdom, but with words taught by the Spirit, describing spiritual realities in spiritual terms.  For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ.   (1 Corinthians 12-16)
Even more, Matthew had the very words of Jesus explaining what he, imitating His Lord, was seeking to do for his congregation in our Gospel passage:
Jesus said: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.  You pay tithes of mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law; judgment and mercy and fidelity.  But these you should have done without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23s.)
With such an example before him Matthew would not rubbish the life-background and devout upbringing of his community by trying to eradicate all traces of it ‘hook, line, and sinker’; he followed his Lord’s own example, these you should have done, without (necessarily) neglecting (what has formed your whole life in the former People of God). 
We can now turn our attention back to St. Paul, himself interpreting, presenting, the teaching of Jesus, handed down to us verbally by St. Luke:
If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.  And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry’, you should forgive him.
This teaching, St. Paul – with the mind of Christ – himself handed on to his former pagan converts with no former Jewish faith or upbringing:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience,  bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.
Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret. (Col. 3:12–13; Eph. 5:10-12)
How wonderful and instructive to be able to see Saint Matthew and Saint Paul both interpreting the ‘mind of Christ’ for those for whom the Spirit of Christ had established them both as watchmen! 
I would now like to dwell, just for a moment, on another point.   Jesus wants us to be concerned about, to love, both our fellows and the truth: He wants us to be concerned that, in the right way, we might ‘win back our brother’.
We are not to judge hastily; we are not to condemn; as our Blessed Lord commanded explicitly:
            Stop judging, that you may not be judged (Matthew 7:1),
and as His most faithful Apostle Paul re-iterated to the Romans (14:10):
Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Nor are we to make accusations freely and inconsiderately before other people, for the name given to Satan in the early Church was ‘The Accuser’ as we read in the book of Revelation (12:10):
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.
In cases of necessity we are to speak,  not secretly to ourselves – cherishing grudges or contempt – not openly to other people – slandering our neighbour, ruining his public reputation unnecessarily – but charitably to the offender himself; not, however, in order to accuse him, but only if such action might serve to help win him back to the right way:
We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all,  (1 Thess. 5:14);   for:
Better is an open rebuke than a love that remains hidden (Proverbs 27:5).
Over and above all, however, in cases of necessity, we should recommend the whole affair, the offender, and ourselves the offended, to the Lord Who lived among us and, in the Spirit, knows us all most intimately: our actions and our intentions, our fears and sensitivities.
As St. Paul says (Romans 12:17-18):
Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all.  If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.
And here I would add myself: having committed everything to the Lord, live at peace yes; and above all at peace with, and in, yourself, your own heart and mind -- a skill, an art, not always easy but one which can be learned by those who are humble and patient enough.
Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good.  (Romans 12:21)