Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A
For today’s Gospel reading click the link below:
(Ezekiel 33:7-9, Rom 13:8-10, Matt 18:15-20)
Homily Reflection by Fr. JJ Fenelon
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Whenever there’s a gathering of people big or small, working or living together, there will almost inevitably be disagreements, misunderstandings and even falling out with each other from time to time. On the one hand differences of viewpoint can lead to brooding and bitterness and on the other hand they may result in airing of grievances and healing.
The one industry that has grown faster and larger than most, I believe, is in the area of Mediation Services. We all understand the need for third-party intervention and assistance to resolve issues among individuals or communities. We value the help of someone who is always available to lend a listening ear and be objective and skilled in dealing with personal or family issues or the workplace. Conflict management has become a key factor in improving employer/employee relations. Unions were set up to help out in these areas but now conflict management within a company has become a key factor to solve problems in the workplace.
Conflict management is the practice of being able to identify and handle conflicts sensibly, fairly, and efficiently. Since conflicts can occur at home, at work or in church, it has become so much more important in today’s world more than ever.
Today’s readings center on how best to address the problems that arise within the family or church community or workplace, in particular on the issue of brotherly or sisterly correction. This is clearly a delicate and thankless task and yet it has to be done.
In the First Reading, Ezekiel insists that just as a sentry is duty-bound to warn of approaching danger, so he, the prophet, must warn those who persist in wickedness of the consequence of their actions. If his language was harsh, it is because the House of Israel had neglected the covenant and given in to the ways of the world. Ezekiel was instructed by God to tell the truth of the situation to his people. His words foreshadowed Jesus’ own teaching in today’s Gospel.
The Gospel gives us clear instructions on how people should relate with one another and deal with conflict within the community. Jesus in the Gospel tells us how this is to be done in a 3 step approach. The 1st step is to deal with the matter privately and informally, in the hope that it will result in a peaceful settlement. It is far better to have the courage to speak with the wrongdoers face to face than to gossip about them behind their back. If that fails, the 2nd step is to get a few others to mediate and if that fails, then, that matter has to be brought to the highest authority.
If all avenues have been exhausted and the offender persists in his wrongful actions, then Jesus says “treat him like a pagan or tax collector”.
Such an attitude might seem a little harsh, but the purpose is reconciliation, not vengeance. It’s important for Jesus that we take this attitude in fraternal correction seriously because it continues the work of reconciliation he had started in the first place. If brotherly correction is not done in love then it can become a form of violence. Jesus does not write people off. Jesus himself focused his ministry on such people when others wrote them off.
In the Second Reading, Paul teaches that “Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour”. Christian correction makes sense only when it is done in the spirit of love. Loving others may be relatively easy when it’s a matter of being generous and compassionate towards them. But to practice the love that cares enough to confront, to challenge and even to oppose is the more costly love. Everyone wants to be the “good guy”. Nobody wants to look bad or get into trouble. Keeping the peace, status quo and even sometimes keeping the job takes precedent.
Jesus was sensitive, understanding, kind, loving and merciful with sinners while he was hard with the Pharisees as he confronted, challenged and opposed their double standards and hypocrisies. This was one of the reasons he went to the Cross.
As Christians we are called to love enough to speak uncomfortable truths at times but always in humility and love. Fraternal correction is never easy but is necessary. The First Reading tells us the moral obligation we have in pointing out the wrong that a brother or sister has done to another in the workplace, church community or home. Being Christian is not the same as being nice. Injustice and wrongdoing must be actively opposed, not simply ignored or wished it didn’t exist, but most importantly it must be done in love not spite. Jesus intends us to practice tough love with those concerned and bring them back to the right path. The prophet Ezekiel says it is better to speak the truth even though it is painful than to keep the peace and allow someone to die in their sin.
St Paul makes it clear that this entails fidelity to God’s commandments in love. To be a Christian is a new way of life. If we truly love, we will not hurt. And therefore love is the answer to all questions of morality. The problem is we prefer to talk with everyone else about the faults of another person but not with the person concerned. Gossiping like this is unmerciful. It’s just the opposite of what St Paul is saying. Genuine love of neighbour requires real courage, because it is liable to be misunderstood and can easily lead to hostility and rejection and sometimes even death which happened in the life of Jesus.
Early in my working life I had an experience of a very tricky situation. I was a shop steward of the union. A shop steward is the union representative who mediates on behalf of the management and the staff who are union members, whenever there is a problem between the two parties.
One of the staff had been accused unfairly of misconduct and reprimanded by the head of department. I was the mediator between the accused staff and the head of department. If it didn’t work out at this level than I would have had to bring it to the next level which would have been with the senior management. If it was not settled at that level then the Union EXCO would have to step in to mediate.
Thankfully, after many hours of prolonged deliberation, I was able to prove that the staff was unjustly accused and reprimanded and a formal apology would be needed from the head of department. All this while I had been polite with all parties concerned. After a private discussion with the head of department, she was prepared to meet her accused staff and apologize personally in my presence, without having to give it in writing. I also had to convince the accused staff that this would be sufficient as the reprimand was also a verbal warning. The matter was settled amicably between the two of them.
The challenge of the Gospel means Christians need to love enough to speak uncomfortable truths with courage but in humility. And when we do that, we know that Christ promises to be there with us. “For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.”