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23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

One of the most difficult tenants of our Christian faith is the Law that Jesus himself gave us… “to love one another.”  But that love needs to extend beyond just helping others when they are in need, it means reaching out and taking action when we see things going wrong.  Our readings this week state that we’re not responsible just for the salvation of our own souls, but for the salvation of everyone’s souls…


Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 13:8-10
Mathew 18:15-20

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 both Jews and non-Jews trying to determine just 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.

Final thoughts:
Being a Catholic Christian is more than just having a personal relationship with God, it also means celebrating that relationship in community with others.  The “Body of Christ” that is a common theme in Paul’s teachings is a reminder that we all have unique gifts that can be contributed to the larger community, but it’s also a reminder that we’re not meant to suffer alone when times get tough.  To “love our neighbor” means supporting each other in good times and bad times.  To watch out for each other, and like in any family, make sure to point out to others when their behavior may be putting their salvation at risk.

We sometimes also operate with a false impression that once we are baptized, we’re done.  We’ve accepted Christ into our lives… we have been saved!  We think of it as a sort of “one and you’re done.” initiative.  The reality is, however, that this is just a beginning.  Conversion isn’t one moment in time, a sort of instantaneous burst of grace.  Rather, conversion is a life long process… a journey that has us facing any number of new trials along the way.  Trials we’re not meant to face alone.  By looking out for others, we can also count on others to look out for us.  That is community.

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