(Sunday XXIII – OT A) Reconciliation and Restoring Justice
- Reading I: Ezekiel 33:7-9
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 95
- Reading II: Romans 13:8-10
- Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:15-20
Process of Reconciliation
The Gospel selection from Matthew 18:15-20 is about the restoration of justice in a relationship marred by sin and reconciliation. In contrast to the usual Jewish practise of bringing an offender before the judgment of the elders, Jesus marks out three steps. The first step is what we now call fraternal correction. The process of reconciliation ends here if the offender allows himself to be corrected. If not, witnesses are called in to help in the process. Only if the process bogs down on the second step is reconciliation raised to the level of the Church. When the offender continues to harden his heart against the invitation to reconciliation, then Jesus says: "Treat them as if he is a pagan or a tax collector."
The responsorial psalm taken from Psalm 95 is an invitation to heed the Word of God. "If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts." If those corrected would be reconciled, they should listen to fraternal correction as if uttered by a prophet.
Love and Attention
The liturgy combines Matthew 18:15-20 with the commissioning of Ezekiel as "watchman" of Israel. The watchman stands on a tower to guard a city from invasion. It is he who sounds the alarm when danger from invaders become obvious. As Israel’s watchman, Ezekiel’s task is to warn those who are in danger of incurring God’s punishment. If he changes, then he is saved. Fraternal correction is like the warning given by a prophet. It is a warning given as part of an offer for salvation.
In the second reading, a selection from Paul’s letter to the Romans puts fraternal correction in the context of love. Nothing should be owed to another except the debt of love. Fraternal correction seen this way becomes an act of charity.
Until this point, we have considered fraternal correction from the point of view of the one being corrected. The gospel reading is actually an instruction to the one offended by the sin of another. It is he who initiates the process of reconciliation. It is he who should by his actions begin the process of restoring justice to a broken relationship. From this point of view, the one who makes the fraternal correction must bear in mind all the other words that Jesus has spoken about judging others and about anger and revenge. Even the parable of the wheat and the tares has some relevance here understood as sin lurking even in our good intentions. Or as the Joyful Papist would put it:
This is what St. Thomas warns us against, and for good reason. It is the obligation of anyone who corrects their brother to make sure that they’re actually doing good to the other person. It’s very easy to tell ourselves that we’re in the right, and that we’re acting out of love, when in fact our motives are much murkier. Perhaps we are angry at the other person, or feel hurt by their choices. Maybe we’re embarrassed (what will the neighbours think?), or want to establish ourselves in a position of moral superiority. Often these things influence our attempts at correction without us even being aware of them, which is why it’s so important to pay attention to the other person. If you fix your eyes on the person you love, not only will you be able to correct for the sins and failings that you bring to the discussion, you will also be less likely to fall into them. You will see what does good, and what does harm, and you will be able to correct yourself, improve your methods, and, if all goes well, eventually find ways of conducting a dialogue that is genuinely fruitful and edifying.
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