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September 10 2017 (A) Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year

  1. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
  2. Reflection & Dialogue: Christianity and the soul of a nation

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (Ezekiel 33:7-9). If you do not speak to the wicked man, I will hold you responsible for his death. This reading speaks of the prophet Ezekiel having been appointed as a sentry, a sentinel, for the house of Israel to alert them to the danger of sin. In its biblical setting, this text is preceded by one on the place of a sentry in the society of Ezekiel himself. Both he and his listeners were well acquainted with the image and reality. Today we of often hear in the news of bomb alerts and such like, of warnings been given and alarms or sirens being sounded. In an army situation it is the sentry who gives the alarm. In a bomb alert, and subsequent alarm, the person who does not heed the alarm has no one but himself or herself to blame for the consequences. Ezekiel lived in a time of war, and the danger was from the sword of an advancing army to the city. A sentinel was posted to sound the trumpet and give the warning. Those hearing the trumpet but not heeding the warning had only themselves to blame for the consequences. However, if the sentinel saw the sword and danger coming but did not blow the trumpet, he would be held responsible for thr deaths ensuing. The text goes on to apply this to Israel, with the prophet as sentry, sentinel, on behalf of God to the wicked, the sinners, in Israel. If the prophet does not warn and the wicked man does not repent, the prophet is held responsible; but if he does warn and the wicked man does not repent, the prophet has no responsibility for the results.

This Old Testament passage is chosen to go with today’s Gospel reading on the attempt to win back an errant Christian to proper observance.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 94[95]). O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.

                                                                                                                                            

Second Reading (Romans 13:8-10). Love is the answer to every one of the commandments. Immediately before this reading, Paul has reminded the Roman Christians to be careful to pay taxes to the civil authorities, to pay all that is due – taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due. This takes him to the principle of love for one another, urging that believers should owe no one anything except to love one another. He gives examples from the commandments to show that the one who loves another has fulfilled the commandments. Paul had said the same thing when writing to the Galatians (5:14). There was a strong Jewish and early Christian tradition behind this. When asked by a Jewish lawyer (a scribe) which commandment of the law was the greatest, Jesus replied that the love of the Lord with all one’s heart and soul was the greatest and the first commandment, and that the second was like it: “‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets”. And. of course, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus explained clearly who one’s neighbour is.

The Gospel (Matthew 18:15-20). If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. This reading is part of a chapter in which the evangelist Matthew treats of matters relating to the understanding of the nature of the Christian community and its administration: true greatness within the kingdom of God, and acceptance of the kingdom as little children, care not to give scandal or endanger the faith of little ones (members of the community, probably of Matthew’s community) who believe in Christ, care for an errant member of the community as a lost sheep, and then the present reading on reproving another member of the community who sins.

            With regard to the opening line of this reading “If a brother does something wrong”, many Greek texts and modern translations add “against you” to “something wrong”. It seems better follow the text without the words “against you”, as the offence requiring such attention seems to be a serious one, not just a matter, a falling out, between two members of the community. The passage lays down norms as to how attend to such a situation, first between the person who came to know of the offence and the offender, then if needs be in the presence of one or two witnesses. If that fails the matter is to be brought before the whole community. The Jewish monks of the Qumran community had such norms. In the case in which the presumed offender refuses to accept the decision of the community, he is to be expelled from the Christian community, to be regarded as an outsider, like a pagan or tax collector. The text that follows seems to indicate that God (“heaven”) will ratify this decision of the community, since it has conferred on it the same powers given to Peter, chief of the apostles, at Caesarea Philippi. The decision of the community seems to be a harsh one, with no mention of a future reconciliation with the community. It is not quite in agreement with the care to be shown for an errant brother, the lost sheep, earlier in the chapter. In practice, within the community a final decision would surely take all these texts into account.

            Jesus stresses that he is present with Christian community and its leaders in their decisions concerning matters of governance. Today’s passage ends with similar promises. Prayer in his name, even by two in agreement, concerning some case or situation, will he heard and answered by his Father. He, Jesus himself, is Emmanuel, God with us, and when two or three meet in his name, to pray, he is there with them. Even despite its failings and decisions, Jesus is with his Church.

  1. Reflection & Dialogue: Christianity and the soul of a nation.

Currently, when attempts are being made to decrease the influence of the Church in public life, or to impede it completely, or even assert that such influence is a danger to the public, it is well to reflect on this question in conjunction with God’s word in today’s Mass liturgy, especially in relation to what Paul has to say in his Letter to the Romans, passages of which are being read over the coming Sundays. This current secularization movement stresses what is external in the human person, in the state and in public life. As a result there may follow a void in the human person, a void within, leading to a lack of a sense of direction in life, and an absence of the strength required in times of trial.

            Society as we know it today has many problems – drugs, and the misery that follow from them for households, the pressure on addicts to pay for the drugs under pain of punishment or death for themselves or their relatives or acquaintances if they do not. There are the murders, the injuries, the knifings. It is obvious that society as we now know it has become rough, in these and in other ways. Governments, state and other organizations can attempt, or do their best, to confront this situation. There is here, however, a dimension that goes beyond any government or organization, and that is the soul of the individual and the forces at work within it. Some writers who reflect on this situation of humanity today, or of society as we know it, note the absence of any metaphysic or substance with regard to the human person, as if the human person only consisted of desires, passions and such like, without a substance behind these to give meaning and direction. It is worth reflecting on all this. As believers we have a call to do something about it, especially as we reflect on what Paul has to say on related issues in his closing chapters of the Letter to the Romans.

            The Church has very much to offer society, and we should all become conscious of this. The Church’s message, Christ’s message, is about the inner person, the soul of the individual, and with this of society.