23RD SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME
Well we are now at the end of the summer holiday months of July and August and all the schools in our locality are back in full swing and all the various clubs and societies that closed for the holidays are now gearing up for the new season. It seems to me that time waits for no one and this must be true enough when my nephew who is 22 years old was wondering why his life was passing by him so quickly. It is very true that life is passing by all of us both young and old along with all the other age groups in-between and the question to be asked of all of us is am I doing what god wants me to do with my life?
In our Gospel passage for this Sunday St Matthew recounts Jesus’ instructions to the disciples about how they should deal with a brother who does something wrong. This same instruction applies to us and our dealings with other people in the here and now of today. This passage is very different from those of the two previous Sundays. They were dramatic stories, marked by deep emotions and with deep implications for the characters involved. This is a little gem of a passage but with little drama, a very practical, common-sense teaching on that most common and most prosaic of community problems – conflict.
It is a great wisdom teaching which continues to be valid for us in our own time. Management has become a science today, and Jesus’ teaching stands up well as a model of how to “manage” conflict in any situation. It is the duty of the disciple we are told to point out the error and even if our correction might not be well received. St Matthew wants to let the Christians in his community know how to deal with those who drift away from the teaching of Christ or blatantly contravene the commandments. And he chooses those words of Jesus which most stress the authority and the competence of the Christian community, the Church, to deal with these cases: Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven. However, there are some safeguards built into this teaching on reproving those who go astray. Jesus says that first of all you must have it out with him alone. This might lead to a speedy solution and the person’s good name is preserved. Yet it seems from the gospel reading that the only sanction is that the person be excluded from the community of the Church. That is surely the meaning of the words: treat him like a pagan or a tax collector treat him as an outsider. But in considering such matters we must be very careful; for getting all worked up about the behavior of someone else can frequently be a sign of something else, something much closer to home. Encountering the truth about another person and ourselves is daunting because it makes us face up to the other person and ourselves and the weaknesses that are part of us and all we are.
We may try to make others a function of our egos, but it fails. Rather than enter the struggle, in many cases we ignore it. Our human relationships mirror our relationship with God sometimes good often times not so good. Whenever we encounter each other—not only in prayer—Jesus is in our midst let us remember this as we go forward as people of faith.