This week our theme is conversion… a most appropriate topic for the opening sessions of the RCIA! But as can sometimes happen, a quick read of the text might leave you asking where this theme is coming from. That is because it’s not so much a story about a conversion as it is a teaching on how a converted person should act.
The Word for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
We open with a reading from the book of the prophet Ezekiel, who tells us that we are not only responsible for our own actions, but for the actions of others as well. Ezekiel is teaching us that the sins of others, if left unchecked, becomes our sin as well. This is at the heart of issues that revolve around the idea of “social sin.” In other words, if we know what is right, we can’t just turn out back to it. For indeed, the mark of a civilized society are the establishment of rules of behavior that all members of that society are expected to follow. Further, it dictates that we all are responsible for making sure those rules are followed. Ezekiel is in a unique position to understand this problem, as he is considered to be the “first prophet of the Exile,” In this case, the first Exile when Jehoiachin surrenders to Babylon, and Ezekiel, not just a prophet but a priest of the royal court, is sent with them. This is the beginning of the end for an independent Israelite kingdom, and is a pivotal moment in Hebrew history.
Our Gospel from Matthew sounds very similar. Here Jesus is teaching his disciples that they are responsible for their “brother’s” actions. Now on the surface, that might seem unfair (especially those of us who grew up with some unruly brothers and sisters), but to insure that we are not held unjustly for the actions of others, Jesus provides us with a stair-step plan: First tell him privately. If that doesn’t work tell him with at least two or three witnesses. If that doesn’t work, tell the whole church. Only then, if that doesn’t work, he should be treated as an outcast, both from this life and the next. It is important to note, however, that while not mentioned in this passage, the text around this passage also reminds us of our need to be merciful and forgiving, as our Father is merciful and forgiving. While the disciples have been given the authority to “bind” and “loose” people’s behavior, it’s not a license to do what they want… they are still bound by the example and teaching of Jesus in the ways of mercy and reconciliation.
Our second reading continues our study of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Here he explains as Jesus would what it means to love one another. As is typical with the Roman Church, you have Jews and non-Jews trying to determine how “jewish” they need to be. Using Jesus’ example, Paul explains what we call “the greatest commandment”, and how that is enough to satisfy the Law. In other words, we should not let ourselves get caught up in the “letter of the Law” without keeping in mind the “spirit of the Law.” When viewed in context with our other readings, it’s a reminder that absolutism is itself a sin where there is no due consideration for context.
So while it might initially seem like the topic of “conversion” misses the point of the readings, deeper consideration helps us to see it is through our actions that conversion takes place. Behavior repeated becomes habit, and if our behavior mimics that of Jesus, then those too become habit, and conversion occurs. How one is called to Christ is as unique as each individual. And make no mistake, it is God who calls us here to gather and to learn. What we do with that knowledge… how we act on it and how we grow it into a way of life is part of an extended process. Conversion is more than just a moment, it is a process that needs to be nurtured and allowed to grow and evolve (that’s right… the Church does believe in evolution…).