Sunday September 6, 2020 The Twenty third Sunday Ordinary Time (Cycle A)
The tie in between today’s readings: Tough Love
Our reading in Psalm 95 breaks down into three parts. The first section is God as the Creator King in verses 3-5. The other two components are responses to the first part: bow down and worship (vs 1-2, 6-7) or rebel with a hardened heart (vs 8-9). The unbelieving person rejects the Lord and lives his life according to his own rules, so any talk about sin is practically meaningless. This person will be excluded from today’s discussion. Our present topic deals with our actions when we see transgressions in a brother or sister in Christ. As Christians, we are citizens of heaven. God is our king, and we are called to a higher standard in accordance with His character. The problem is that we are all sinners by birth. This new life of holy living in Christ must be learned. Sometimes we don’t understand the things that God wants us to do and, other times, we don’t want to do them. The Lord has made it our duty, as our brother’s keeper, to warn each other to stay on the straight and narrow. It is an awesome, necessary, but difficult responsibility, especially when you consider the struggles we have with sin in our own lives. But the Almighty has given us some steps to follow.
First and foremost, when it comes to correction, love is to be our primary purpose, method, and goal. Love of God, so that His reputation would not be tarnished, or His Spirit grieved by His children’s wayward actions. Love of our neighbor, so they can reach spiritual healing and escape the destructive consequences that sin brings. The Apostle Paul reminds us, in our reading in Romans 13:8-10, that love is a debt that we owe to each other in our daily lives. Love fulfills the Ten Commandments. Sin disregards them, denies our love duty, and becomes a concern of the Church. But even here, when we guide someone away from sin, it must be done in love. Secondly, prepare in humility. Search yourself. Check your motives. Confess, repent, and take the log of sin out of your own eye before going to your brother over the speck in his (Luke 6:42). Thirdly, ask if this is something that really needs to be dealt with. Nobody is perfect. If they have offended you, show that love that covers a multitude of sins as St. Peter said in 1 Peter 4:8. Forgive! Forget! Move on! Also, people who disagree with your theology or lifestyle are not necessarily a tool of the Devil. Ask if this behavior is harmful to that person or to others. Make sure that a sin, is a sin, is a sin. Use these principles as important first steps before you walk that tightrope of making someone else’s doings your business.
Our Lord lays down a method of conduct when confronting another in today’s gospel, Matthew 18:15-20. Do it privately. Don’t go telling people what happened and what you’re going to do about it. That’s pride and gossip dressed up in your “piety”! It’s destructive! Entreat in love and if the other person agrees with you, then great! Mission accomplished! You should be so lucky! Usually, you’ll get some push back, to say the least. Now, it gets tricky. Jesus says go back to him with one or two more people to establish the validity of your concern. For heaven’s sake, don’t go picking your buddies when doing this. They will usually lack objectivity. Personally, I would only go to the pastor, in private. He has the training, discretion, and experience to deal with situations like this. As an impartial observer, he might conclude that you’re the one with the problem and tell you to drop it. Privacy savesyour reputation here too, especially ifyou need to go back to that person and apologize. Depending on circumstances, your pastor may want to take the whole thing over and talk to the parishioner himself. Either way, his authority will give you the needed credibility for the intervention. Besides, if it goes south, it’s his congregation that’s going to be thrown into turmoil. So, our defiant trespasser has dug in his heels, we’re onto step number three. This person’s relationship to the church is now in the hands of the powers that be. It’s never pretty. One last plea for contrition. One last chance to repent. Then, the mix of tears, frustration, and anguish as the church severs her relationship with her prodigal child in the hopes for a return someday.
It’s the pain and our inadequacies associated with this whole process that causes us to shrink back from it all. In our reading in Ezekiel 33:7-9, God reminds us that we have a vested interest in the fate of others, whether they listen or not. We need to be open and accountable to each other for our behavior in the Body of Christ. In the same vein, we need to take stock of our own walk with the Lord and honestly confess our failures when we find them. Lastly, let’s not forget our duty to warn a world of unbelieving people of the coming judgement on sin and their way of escape through the gospel of salvation in Jesus. It’s all part of God’s work in grace and forgiveness. The Lord has allowed us to be His agents in imploring people back to Him. He will provide the humility, the strength, and the love for us to accomplish this. Listen to His voice. Follow His rules. Go in His Spirit. It is a staggering responsibility to be our brother’s keeper.