Archive for September, 2014|Monthly archive page

THE TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – A – September 07, 2014

From the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel 33:7-9

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans 13:8-10

From the Holy Gospel according to Matthew 18:15-20

 

The Liturgy of the Word is communal, just as is the Liturgy of the Eucharist. We gather individually and as part of the Assembly to be nourished at the Table of the Word. We do the same as we gather at the Table of the Eucharist. In both cases we are to be formed and transformed by what we hear and do. That is important to remember because our natural tendency might be to center on being individuals before our Lord and God and forget that together as the Assembly we are the Body of Christ, the Church. Perspective will impact how we hear, how we celebrate, and how we respond.

This Sunday the Prophet Ezekiel proclaims the prophecy because God commands it. There are dire consequences if he does not. The call is to conversion, be it the call to the House of Israel or to the wicked one, as we hear in the first reading. Israel is in exile, in the Babylonian captivity, and needs to be renewed in fidelity to God’s Law and must be weaned from pagan practices that weakened them, resulting in Israel’s downfall and Jerusalem’s destruction. The conversion will happen one person at a time. God holds the Prophet responsible for the proclamation. The hearer must respond to the challenge and return to God’s ways or not.

Conversion is a lifelong process both for the individual and for the church. When the faithful gather at the Table of the Word, they are supposed to listen in order to be challenged, and being challenged, to be transformed by the proclamation. What response does the Spirit prompt in my heart as I hear the Word?   What effect does the Spirit prompt in this community of which I am a part? We can be so used to standing behind defenses, masked and clad in armor that deflects the message and shields the heart lest the Word penetrate.

Most of us gather regularly with the same community of individuals all coming as we do from the same neighborhood and class of society, and with our accepted ways of acting. We have causes that we support in common. We can be insular in the comfort of our pew. Have you ever been unnerved when, coming into church, you find that someone with whom you are unfamiliar is in your place? Granted, you might have been a few minutes later than usual when you arrived. But that place is where you have knelt and sat for some time now. It might not be until after the Preparation of the Gifts that you relax and take a couple of deep breaths, swallow and let go of your resentment.

You might not be alone in liking the older hymns that the choir sings, even the Latin hymns, the Gregorian Chant. You might enjoy listening to a well-prepared Lector proclaim the reading. Do you like the comfort that comes from a well-delivered sermon?

Well, maybe something more than that is supposed to be happening. It might not all be about comfort. The experience of the Liturgy of the Word might also be confrontational.

The readings this week gave me pause. It’s one thing to think of other people who could benefit from the lesson. What unsettled me was the question that pierced through a chink in my armor and entered my consciousness: Could Ezekiel be speaking to me? And if the prophet were speaking to me, what response would be expected. A fortiori, could the prophet be speaking to my parish community? If that were true, how should the community respond? To what would I and we have to die in order to rise to the life that Jesus would have us live?

At first I thought there was something in what I heard that appealed to the judgmental in me. These readings would seem to call for that ability. I would have to know who the wicked are and the evils of which they are guilty before I could warn them for the Lord. Knowing their wickedness and confronting it, as difficult as that might be, would be better than my silence warranting my being responsible for their receiving God’s wrath.

I liked the Gospel’s approach even better. If I recognized that someone sinned against me, at least the process of confrontation could begin between just the two of us. That’s what Jesus said. If our conversation did not bring about reform, then I could garner support for my cause from a few of my friends. And if that didn’t work, I would have to put the matter before the whole parish. There would be some consolation if the offender failed to listen to the whole parish because then the sinner could be shunned. There would be satisfaction in that, in knowing that I was right and the other was wrong. Treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector, Jesus said.

No sooner was I satisfied with my interpretation of the message than I began to feel uneasy. Was that the Spirit moving me? To shun means to avoid deliberately and habitually. That is what the community did to Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter. There are some faith communities that endorse shunning. Something gnaws at me. Why am I thinking that the church ought not do that? It is one thing for an individual to decide that s/he wants to leave the community, but excommunication is quite another matter.

To be honest, I winced at the stories in the news about certain political figures being denied Eucharist for stands they took on certain issues, for example, freedom of choice regarding abortion. But other politicians whose stands seemed to be in opposition to the church’s social Gospel and our consequent responsibility to care for the poor suffered no such denial. That struck me as odd. I am convinced that it is not the minister’s right to make that determination. That decision is the prerogative of the one presenting self in the Communion Procession.

Treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Then I thought about the example set by Jesus’ own table fellowship practice. The great accusation made against him in the case for his crucifixion was: This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. Among those sinners were tax collectors. The judgers knew that he shared his table with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other categories of people of ill repute. He was known to converse with lepers and Gentiles. How can I reconcile Jesus’ attitude with shunning?

I was tempted to think that Jesus statement about Gentiles and tax collectors warranted my shunning of one deemed by me or the community with me to be a sinner. Then I remembered that Jesus’ own first attitude toward Gentiles had had to change. His mission and message in the beginning he thought was meant to be only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Remember his encounter with the Canaanite woman a few Sundays ago? The woman’s faith forced Jesus to see he had to include Gentiles when she reminded Jesus that even the dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. And Matthew, tradition has it, was a tax collector.

So, what impact ought these readings have on me? How should my attitude and behavior be affected? Certainly the desired response is not to be blind or indifferent to evils being perpetrated. The Church’s social Gospel, the universal call for justice and peace, attests to that. So does the Church’s proclamation supporting primacy of place for the poor, a fundamental option for the poor, attest to the call for justice. In the face of social evils it is not enough for me to shrug my shoulders, convinced, as I am, that I would never do such things and conclude that such evils will always go on. Do I really agree with some of those televangelists who say if the poor would just work harder they wouldn’t be poor any longer, thus absolving the wealthy of responsibility for them? Do I agree that their poverty is a sign of God’s disfavor with them and is a punishment for their sins – theirs or their parents’?

This is where my on-going conversion comes into play. The judgment scene at the end of Matthew’s Gospel ought to root out any indifference in me, that is, unless I won’t mind being banished with the goats that failed to recognize Jesus and therefore failed to respond to his needs evidenced in the poor, the hungry, the homeless and the naked. Ah, but that is for a discussion of another Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word.

My call is to live the Gospel that for Paul is summed up in this injunction: Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another. The commandments tell me all the things I should not do to my brothers and sisters. Such deeds ought not be part of my life. But not doing is not enough. What I must do is love. And that means loving in imitation of the way Jesus loved. That means forgiving, too. I must love even those I deem unlovable. It will be amazing what I will learn as I struggle with that process.

What I recognize as my call as an individual translates into a call for the community with which I gather. After all, we will move together from the Table of the Word where we received the call to conversion, to the Table of the Eucharist where the Spirit will accomplish the transformation of the Bread and Wine and of us.

Love demands the proclamation: All are welcome here. The words might be said, but does the attitude of the Presider and of the Assembly proclaim that to the ones who have known rejection because of their race, their gender, or their sexual orientation? Those who approach to celebrate Eucharist and to receive worthily must accept forgiveness in their own lives in order that having eaten and drunk they may be sent to proclaim that forgiveness and hope to all they meet.

As Church we must listen to Pope Francis and follow his example. Look at the amazing impact he had during his recent visit to South Korea. He as said over and over again during his papacy that the Christian call is all about love. And he is the first to admit that there is nothing more demanding than that. Obviously he has taken Paul to heart. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.

That’s what we must believe and put into practice.

Sincerely,

Didymus

 

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