9-10-2017 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sep 11, 2017
23rd Sunday in OT / A / 2017
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
A couple of weeks ago we heard that Jesus would build his new community on the rock solid confession of Peter, that "Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah of God." This Church, this new community, would be "called out" of the world to live a new life, a life based on the values of the Kingdom: love, forgiveness, compassion, chastity, and truth.
In the Gospel today we get a practical example of the ethics of that community, and it is not an easy one. It’s about correction, what we might call "fraternal correction," of our brothers and sisters. Two questions come to mind. 1) Should we give fraternal correction? And, 2) if we do, how do we do it?
Here’s the challenge: if there is any absolute in our society today, it is non-judgmentalism. You live your life; I live mine. Your truth is your truth; my truth is my truth. Each person should be free to live his/her life however they want. Some quote Jesus to defend this: "judge not, lest you be judged." In their interpretation, this means that we are supposed to overlook the faults of others, be indifferent to them, close our eyes to them, "live and let live."
But Jesus’ words can’t mean that we never take a stand on moral issues—that we tolerate evil. Didn’t Jesus point out the moral failures of the Scribes and Pharisees ("whitened sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones"). Should a parent never correct a child? Should we be indifferent if a friend is caught in some addiction, or doing harm to themselves, or causing scandal? Of course not! We should act.
When Jesus says, "judge not," it doesn’t mean that we put aside our moral intelligence and our capacity to discern and to judge good and evil. It means "don’t lord it over," don’t use the law as a hammer, don’t try to be superior to another, and so on.
But the important question is this: when we judge, if we must correct another, how do we do it?
The Gospel today gives us a very good, practical method—a three step process, staying within the bounds of love, starting with the person and gradually including others. "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone." What is our normal behavior in these matters? We tell someone else. We put it on Facebook. We text all our friends. We gossip. We triangulate. Not helpful! The advice Jesus gives: go directly to the person in question.
The hope is that the person will change his behavior and reconciliation will take place. If that doesn’t work, the second step is to tell one or two others (to make sure that you are not the problem) and do an intervention. This is always done with care and concern for the person. Without that, an intervention has little hope of success.
But there is also a third level, and Jesus calls it "the church," the community of believers. This does not mean that you get up in the pulpit at all the Masses and point the finger at your brother or sister! No, the "church" is probably a reference to a few important "elders" in the community, keeping the fraternal correction in the context of love and care and concern.
The final step in this process has an ominous sound: "If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector." If a person refuses to change, then he cuts himself off from the community. There isn’t much more that you can do. But does that mean the person is banished? No. How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? With love and respect, always reaching out to them, always concerned about their well-being. With the hope that one day they will return.
Fraternal correction—always a challenge, and so is the Gospel. But there is help: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."