Gospel Reflection – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle A

Living in community can be difficult. If you ever come across a community that is harmonious, it means that consistent work takes place to make it so. It never happens automatically; ever. A monastic community is difficult because of its ‘undiluted’ nature; it isn’t easy to get away from someone who’s bothering you. But a well-functioning monastic community is only so high-maintenence precisely because it reflects the wider community of humanity. We only need to peer into world news to remind ourselves how tricky it is to live together.
Any church community has difficulty. And that’s why today’s Gospel should come with two warnings.
The Gospel explains the cascaded stages required when trying to speak to a brother who has done wrong. First, we speak to him; if that works, he is won back. If not, bring another person with you. If that doesn’t work, report him to the community, and so on until Jesus says: ‘… if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.’
The first warning is this: be careful about what you constitute as ‘doing wrong’. In many situations, especially when petty dislikes are simmering away just under the surface, a brother or sister could be doing wrong simply by not subscribing to our own view. In this kind of instance (one that abounds in countless faith communities) it is our own pride, and not our brother’s wrongdoing, that is at fault. Yet, we are in danger of starting a crusade against that person. It is this kind of ill-treatment that gives us, as Christians, such a bad name, partly because of its widespread nature across the world. Even if that sister or brother HAS committed a wrongdoing, bringing it up can sometimes exacerbate the situation. After all, we are taught to forgive even before receiving an apology. And we often decide to have it out with someone, not because we care for the salvation of their soul, but because a morsel of our ego has been chipped off the great edifice.
The second warning is this: remember how Jesus treated tax collectors. When he noticed Zaccheus at the top of the tree, Christ did something that astounded all those who called themselves his followers, all those who called themselves upstanding and God-fearing: he talked to him, he took interest. We can’t stress just how astounding this would have been. And he went further: he dined at his house, held meaningful, friendly discussion with him. So, when Jesus says ‘treat him like a tax collector’, he is telling us to treat him or her with love, with unbounded, astounding love, with the kind of selfless love that he showed not only to tax collectors but Samarians and lost sheep, and with all those people we decide aren’t good enough, or ‘outsiders’. We run the risk of seeing this Gospel as a green light to shun people, as though we are somehow members of a private members club.
Today’s Gospel Acclamation is this: Your word is truth, O Lord, consecrate us in the truth (John 17). So let us pray today for the grace to be consecrated in this truth which is Jesus, for Jesus IS love. And there are never any exceptions to learning love, to being love, to living love, and to offering love. Never.
A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew (18:15-20).
Jesus said to his disciples:
If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, is between your two selves.
If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.
If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you:
the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge.
But if he refuses to listen to these,
report it to the community;
and if he refuses to listen to the community,
treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.
‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.
‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.
For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’
The Gospel of the Lord.