SEPTEMBER 10TH, 2017: TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Thus says the LORD:
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel;
when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.
If I tell the wicked, "O wicked one, you shall surely die, "
and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way,
the wicked shall die for his guilt,
but I will hold you responsible for his death.
But if you warn the wicked,
trying to turn him from his way,
and he refuses to turn from his way,
he shall die for his guilt,
but you shall save yourself.
Brothers and sisters:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another;
for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery;
you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, "
and whatever other commandment there may be,
are summed up in this saying, namely,
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself."
Love does no evil to the neighbor;
hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
If he does not listen,
take one or two others along with you,
so that 'every fact may be established
on the testimony of two or three witnesses.'
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them."
Years ago, in a radio interview, the late actor Dennis Weaver mentioned why Gunsmoke’s Mr. Dillon had a sidekick like Chester. “All radio and TV western heroes needed someone to be with them, otherwise the show and movies would be terribly boring; the audience would never know what the heroes were thinking. The Lone Ranger talks to Tonto; Gene Autry confides in Smiley Burnette. Without their sidekicks, the heroes wouldn’t have been heroes.”
In some sense, the same thing applies to our faith. Unless we somehow associate with others, our faith – no matter how deep - could quickly become meaningless.
Biblical faith is never to be lived on a mountain top. Only when it’s experienced in the midst of a community does it make sense. Unless we’re relating with others, the examples of living given us by Yahweh and the risen Jesus are useless. It’s easy to “imagine” we’re believers. Actually giving ourselves for others proves it. As M*A*S*H.’s Fr. Mulcahy once observed, “No matter how good you are at bluffing in poker, eventually you’ve got to show your cards.” Only then does the rubber hit the road.
Paul reflects on our unique situation in today’s second reading: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another . . . .” Biblical faith only comes alive when we share our love with others. Since nothing should stand in the way of that love, the Apostle reminds those early Jewish/Christians in the Roman church whose lives once revolved around obeying the 613 Laws of Moses, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Yet, as we know, there’s no one action that to everyone always shows love. Our acts of love differ because the needs of those we love differ. As a prophet, for instance, Ezekiel shows love by being the community’s “watchman.” It’s his responsibility to let them know what Yahweh wants them to do. In 6th century BCE Israel, the normal way the Chosen People surface God’s will is by first surfacing the community’s prophets, then carrying out what they tell them to do. If any prophet refuses to follow through on his/her ministry, they’ll suffer the same punishment as those who refuse to listen to Yahweh.
Because the first followers of Jesus were convinced they shared in Jesus’ prophetic ministry, Matthew’s Jesus stresses their responsibility to confront others in the community when those others refuse to show love to those around them.
Though overlooked by many, in today’s gospel pericope the whole community receives the same power to bind and loose that Peter personally received back in chapter 16; a built-in tension which Matthew is convinced is necessary in any loving Christian community. In other words, there’re no simple answers to complicated questions. Not only that, but Jesus takes his disciples’ prerogatives one step further. “. . . If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.”
Of course, all this community stuff must be seen against the background of love. We’re not just people who accidently find ourselves in the same stadium crowd. We’re actually the loving body of Christ. As Matthew’s community quickly found out, it’s in the acts of love we share that we discover the risen Jesus in our midst. “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
The people we encounter during our lives aren’t just sidekicks who help us reveal ourselves to others. More than anything else, they help us reveal ourselves to ourselves. Only when we show them love do we surface the hero in ourselves.