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23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept.

7, 2014
(Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

The job of a watchman was to report what he saw and heard. In
the case of Ezekiel he is obliged to speak what he heard from the Lord.
He is obliged to let the wicked know of their evil ways. Should he fail
to warn the wicked, they will surely die for their guilt, but the
responsibility for their deaths will be placed on Ezekiel. If he actually
warns them and then they die, he will have done what he was
supposed to do, and while the wicked one will die for his guilt Ezekiel
will save himself. All the prophets had a similar calling. They had no
option when speaking the word of the Lord.
The Gospel instruction about fraternal correction fits nicely
with the warning to the prophet. It involves the question of how to
resolve difficulties about sin within the Christian community. It bears
repeating that this situation is about sin within the community. This is
not about personality clashes or disagreements with decisions others
make which affect a whole group. In these latter cases one on one may
well work.
The easiest solution is to speak personally with the sinful brother
to alert him to his sin. If he should listen then the problem is solved.
Of course, this assumes the brother (or sister) has sinned. Upon
discussing it with the person we may well discover there is a lot more
gray than black and white which we think we see so clearly. We may
well have to apologize for mentioning the matter in the first place.
If the sinner does not listen to a direct confrontation then two or
three others who are aware of the sin should be brought along to
testify against the sinner, in line with the Old Testament Law requiring
two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). Whether Jesus would
have cited law as a basis for his judgment is debatable. Matthew was
fond of fulfillment citations and this may well be another occasion,
subtle though it is.
If (or when) he still refuses to listen then it is to be told to the
church. Should he still refuse to listen, then he is to be treated as a
gentile or a tax collector, which practically means he is
excommunicated from the community. Here again it is unlikely that
Jesus said this about either gentiles or about tax collectors. There is
much better reason to think Matthew was the author of the expression.
In todays experience he would probably already have left by the time
it got that far.
In the context of this passage, which grants to the disciples the
same authority of binding and loosing that was given to Peter
(Matthew 16:18), this story of a sinner in the church is likely a
practical problem that arose within the early church.
This leads into the effects of prayer within the assembly, and
agreement between those who pray. When even small groups pray in
the name of Jesus the prayer becomes effective. It should not be easy
to agree that praying for the Fathers will to be done, as Jesus taught
us to pray, is the wisest prayer. Placing limits on our prayer, as we do
so often, by insisting that our own will is sufficient, is to miss what
may be the Fathers will.
Finally Pauls words on love of the neighbor prove all
encompassing. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the
fulfillment of the law. Put another way: Anyone who does evil to or
hates the neighbor can never hope to fulfill the law. Christians
gathered in community should think about that the next time they
gather. For that matter, can prayer ever be effective where two or three
disagree? Such spats do irreparable harm to the community.

Fr. Lawrence Hummer