23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – 10th September 2017

Fraternal correction

First Reading

Ezekiel 33:7-9

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name. If I say to a wicked man: Wicked wretch, you are to die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin, but you yourself will have saved your life.’

Second Reading

Romans 13:8-10

Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.

Gospel Reading

Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.

‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’

Scripture readings – Courtesy of Universalis Publishing Ltd. – www.universalis.com

REFLECTION

“Fraternal correction”

by Julian Drapiewski

Today’s Good News as told by Matthew is about how to deal with sin committed by people closest to us, using fraternal or brotherly reprimand.

Ok, this method is for the sin against the objective truth, where there is no doubt that there is wrongdoing in light of Christ’s way. It doesn’t deal with personal hurt – for that tune in next week.

Ok, so how to do this properly?

Firstly, you have to be sincerely concerned for the soul of a person and his or her conscience. Do it gently, relaying on the truth as taught by the Church.

If there is no result, the warning has to be confirmed with credible witnesses, who will reaffirm your good intentions and sound teaching.

The opinion of the community is very important, as no Christian ever stands alone; we stand together as a Church, with clear doctrine with Christ himself and faith of all generations who had gone before us.

Finally the admonition must convince the trespasser that the mercy of God is not only greater than every kind of evil, but that it is infinite. This infinity of mercy is the purest source of hope for us all sinners.

That’s is. It’s simple isn’t it?

Of course it isn’t, we often don’t feel authority to rebuke fellow men or women.

And that’s why Jesus is giving us another way: pray to him for your brother and sister, for the light of truth for them so they may see and understand their sin and do this in community of people who care for the sinner in question, because where two or three gather in Jesus’s name, there he is with them and: if two of us on earth agree about anything we ask for, it will be done for us by Jesus’s Father in heaven. Amen.

LECTIO DIVINA

by Fr Juan José Bartolomé SDB

Introduction to Lectio Divine

Very soon the Christian community had to face the reality of sin in its midst. Christians were not able to live up to the demands of God’s will. When they discovered the power of sin, they recognized also the power of grace. They knew that they were appointed by Jesus to be ministers of his pardon and they developed a specific procedure for the forgiveness of sin. There is an insistence on fraternal correction and the gentle pedagogical approach to be used to lead their brothers to conversion. Repeated attempts are to be made and there is a gradual progression in the measures to be adopted. However, all this does not preclude the radical final decision that the brother who refuses pardon is to be expelled. Forgiveness is offered, but anyone who refuses grace is to be excommunicated. When grace is offered, continuing to live in sin is not an option. Anyone who rejects conversion is to be expelled from the community.  The community is born out of grace which is a free gift of God.  Refusing conversion means rejecting the life of the community.

Read: understand what the text is saying, focussing on how it says it

This passage is part of a long discourse in which Jesus explains the laws governing the life of the community (Mt 18). Jesus imposes a duty of fraternal correction on the members of the community. He also indicates a precise method for putting it into practice. The evangelist is an experienced pastor. He accepts the existence of sin within the Christian community as an undeniable fact but he does not condone the pretence or connivance of those who would tolerate it. The community knows that it is not free of sin and should also know how to deal with the member who sins. Sin cannot be avoided but that does not absolve the community from its duty to confront sin. This is a warning that is clearly relevant in our own day.

In 18, 15-20 the evangelist groups together eight sentences in two separate blocks. ‘Brother’ is the key word in verses 15-17 which lay down the norms to be followed in dealing with a sinner within the community. The authority behind these norms is spelt out in the verses that follow, verses 18-20. The sinner and the brother who corrects him remain united in fraternal love. Correcting the brother who sins in the hope of saving him is a work of brotherly love.

The first five sentences (15-17) are all formulated in the same way. A case is presented, in the form of a condition, and a solution is offered, always in the form of a command.  Each case constitutes a unit complete in itself. The tone is markedly legalistic. In the cases contemplated, the response is obligatory, in the form indicated. These are norms of the divine law.

The three verses that follow, verses 18-20, serve as motivation. There is a clear break, emphasized first of all by the introduction (Truly I say to you) and by a change of content. Verse 15-17 are addressed to the individual member. Verses 18-20 are addressed to the community. Whatever the community decides will be confirmed by God, provided the community asks for it in prayer.

The existence of a disciplinary procedure shows that there were tensions within the community. The fact of sin and its origin were acknowledged, and precise norms were given for the sinner to turn away from his sin. The detailed process of correction laid down makes it an inescapable duty. Knowing precisely what is to be done makes correction an obligation that cannot be shirked.

Meditate: apply what the text says to life

Strange as it may seem, Jesus knew that sin would occur in the lives of his disciples. He knew well that his disciples would not always follow the demands of his Father, and that not even those closest to him would live lives fully in accord with the will of God. He was not discouraged by this. Instead he taught them how the sinner could be converted when the offer of pardon was repeated with perseverance. The Christian community had to learn to forgive, because sin was a reality in its midst. Living in the community with one who sins implies a duty to offer the gift of forgiveness.

The very fact that Jesus felt obliged to teach a method for the forgiveness of sin demonstrates his concern for the holiness of his disciples. He did not want their failures and weaknesses to be regarded as unforgiveable, but he did not leave them alone in their sins.  He did not condemn the sinner but neither did he condemn the community to live with sin. By teaching them to forgive the sinner, Jesus obliged his disciples to take seriously the offence committed by their brother, and he showed them the way to forgive the offence. He did not permit those who were able to follow him without mistakes and failures to be unconcerned about those who found it more difficult to live according to his will.

It is consoling for us to reflect on the fact that Jesus was not discouraged by the situations of obvious sin among his disciples. He did not criticize those who were unable to live up to the high standards demanded by God. He does however make each one responsible for the brothers with whom he lives, urging all to care about the sinner and to try to win him back to the holiness of the community. Instead of getting angry about the sin of one of his followers, he teaches those who are able to remain good to show concern for their weaker brother. According to the teaching of Jesus in this passage, being less of a sinner than others should make us more responsible. The one who sins less should forgive more. For those who follow Jesus, the struggle against sin can never go out of fashion, as long as there is even one Christian who fails to live up to the teaching of Jesus. Jesus does not reprove the sinner because he depends on his followers to show concern for the sinner’s conversion.

Unfortunately, the best among us normally live our Christian life trying to avoid sin but ignoring the command of Jesus: anyone who is free from sin has responsibility for his brother who is still sinning. If we want to be true disciples of Jesus, it is not enough to avoid sin ourselves. We have to help our brothers to avoid sin. To fail to care for our brother who has fallen, just because we ourselves have not fallen, is to ignore the command of Jesus. The Christian cannot be content simply to be good, if those who follow Christ with him are not also good. As long as there is a Christian sinning, we all have a duty to do and a command of Christ to obey.

Jesus does not just demand that his disciples pardon the one who sins. He also shows them how it is to be done. The disciple must try to convert the one who sins, with sensitivity and tact, with perseverance and genuine concern, gradually and with firmness. Jesus also says – and this may seek harsh – that one who persists in sinning is not to be regarded as a brother. Anyone who refuses to accept forgiveness, is to be refused a place in the life of the community. One who perseveres in evil cannot be our brother.  If he does not want to live in peace with our Father, we cannot consider him our brother. This command of Jesus is no less demanding than the first one. Which do we find easier: to pardon the one who sins or to live in community with him?

Very often we Christians, even those we consider good, share our life with people who reject God.  We lack the courage to break with those who have openly and visibly broken with God, our Father.  We are making a mistake if we consider worthy of our fellowship those who do not consider God worthy of their obedience. If we really love God we should be concerned that God not be ignored or disrespected, and we should not show too much consideration for those who do not value God or treat him with disrespect. If we are not too ready to forgive our closest friends when they forget God, we let them see that God is more important to us than they are. Perhaps that is all they need to be converted and turn again to God!

It is not unusual for good Christians to feel that they have been forgotten by God. It may seem that God does not hear our requests or care about our needs. But in the gospel Jesus assures us that anything we ask in his name will be granted. Surely Jesus is faithful to his word! Could it be, perhaps, that God cannot fulfil his promise to hear our prayer, because we have not first fulfilled our obligation to offer pardon to those who need it? We should not forget that Jesus promised to hear those who, united in his name, have tried to win back to God the brother who has sinned.

If we were more concerned about God’s word, we would not worry too much about his response to our petty discourse. We need to learn that it is not enough to ask, if we have not first obeyed. Praying in Jesus’ name is a pointless exercise if we have not first followed him closely. If we have not tried to meet the demands of God, we cannot expect him to heed our petitions.  It does not make sense to tell God what we need if we have not shown concern for our brothers and sisters who do not yet know God as their Father. When we are certain that we have done our duty, then we can pray with the certainty of receiving what we desire.

However, the promise of Jesus does not end here. Despite the presence of sinners in its midst, the community that serves God and forgives sinners will receive, through Jesus, whatever it asks for in his name. Jesus promises to stay close to those who pray, when they have done all they can to win back the brother who has sinned, the one who has strayed and is lost. It is good to have brothers who will forgive us when we need forgiveness, and who will continue to be concerned about us even if we have left them. It is good to belong to a community where Jesus is present. It is good to be able to ask God in Jesus’ name for what we need, with the certainty of being heard, knowing that Jesus shares our prayer and knows our needs. It is good to belong to a community where forgiveness is offered permanently.

It is good to continue to be disciples of Jesus, cost what it may, sharing in common our effort to be faithful, shoulder to shoulder with brothers who are obliged to help us when we need it, and whom we will help when they have need of it. God’s demands are great indeed, but his promises are no less wonderful. When we accept responsibility for our brother who sins, we in turn have God as our Father and Jesus living in our midst. God does not demand of us any more than what he has given to us, but neither does he demand any less.

PRAYER

Since it is from you, God our Father,
that redemption comes to us, your adopted children,
look with favour on the family you love,
give true freedom to us and to all who believe in Christ,
and bring us all alike to our eternal heritage.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

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