Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014
Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A 2014
The prophets had a rough job. Some tried to escape the job, like Jonah. But in the Hebrew Testament God was insistent, once he chose a spokesperson, that they do the job. God makes it quite clear to Ezekiel this morning just what his job is and the consequences of not listening to God and spreading the words God gave him. God says that prophets are watchmen, and that their main purpose is to warn. If God tells a prophet that someone is doing something wrong and they will die if they don’t turn from their ways, and the prophet does not tell them this warning, then God holds the prophet responsible for the death of that person. So being a prophet, a watchman was quite a responsibility.
The psalm today also talks about the responsibility of listening to God, but this time from the point of view of the one being warned. “…listen to t voice of the Lord. Do not harden your hearts!” reads the refrain, and then God references the Jews in the wilderness who refused to listen to the Lord and were thereby made to wander the desert for 40 years.
In quite a different way, the Gospel of the New Covenant speaks about people who are sinning and also need to be warned. The admonition this time is to the Apostles themselves and they are being given the ability to speak for God, an awesome responsibility. Instead of God speaking directly to the prophet, the Apostles are given the ability to decide that someone has hurt them in some way, they are given the way to censure them, Jesus providing the way that it should be done. First, he says, the person should be talked to one on one, then if that doesn’t work, a committee should speak to the person and evidence of the sin or fault given, and finally if that doesn’t work, the community as a whole should meet with the person. And if even that doesn’t work, the person should be shunned. If you follow this process, Jesus says, then God will be in agreement with your decisions. It is the community of disciples that can make such decisions, and Jesus will be with them when they do. We often take this last statement “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” out of context and apply it to community worship and prayer, but in context, it was really referring to decision-making by the apostles regarding how the Christian life should be lived.
It does present a model, however for our church structures. We often today make the comment, as did Pope Francis – who am I to judge? We are told Biblically that we should not judge lest we be judged, so that today we make a big thing about not judging people, leaving it up to God. Does this passage change that view or conflict with it? Jesus does seems to indicate in our reading today that there are sometimes clear wrongs being done to a person, and that disciples have an obligation to try to change the heart of the one doing wrong, first by discussing it with the other person, then taking it to the court with witnesses, then to the congregation. The judgment of the congregation, translated as Church here, will be treated as if Jesus were making the decision, for he gives them the power to decide. How can we bring together these seemingly opposite ideas about judging people? And to complicate it more, we have, since the time of third century with Tertullian seen this as the power to forgive sins, but in its original Jewish context it was all about making legal judgments in a dispute between two people.
I think we can state that Jesus was talking here about giving the disciples the authority to act in his name in regulating the communal life of the Christian disciples. How should a Christian live out the teachings of Christ? So when an issue comes up and someone is living in a way that is questionable, the disciple meets one on one, then if the problem is not resolved, it is brought to a tribunal, and if still not resolved, the community or congregation itself should vote on it, with the authority of Jesus behind them. We are not really talking here about judging morality, but judging communal behavior and theological interpretations.
All of which brings us to the second reading today from Paul to the Romans where Paul gives us the overview necessary regarding our relationships with others. We simply (yet not so simple!) have to love them. From the beginning of the Hebrew Covenant when the Laws were given, both Paul and Jesus have told us that the commandments are divided between two great commands. They either refer to loving God or to loving our neighbor. They are explanations of how we can do that. If you show true love and concern for the other, you will do what the commandments say without thinking about it. You will fulfill the law. When we are tempted to judge, we have to find ways to love. When we feel wronged, we have to find ways to love. When we disagree with what is going on in our community, we have to find ways to love. It is not simple. It is not always easy. But if we are going to be Christians we have to find the best ways of learning how to show love with Jesus as our model.
I think that is what i enjoy most about the small congregations of our Apostolic Catholic churches. The smallness provides the opportunities to love and allows us to work on our interpersonal relationships. Because we are small, we can get annoyed by small quirks of our neighbor as well. But all the better to build up ways to find love’s acceptance. This week I call on you to try to strengthen a relationship that you have with someone in the parish, perhaps someone you do not know well yet, or someone whose personality may not be all that attracted to, and find the lovable thing about that person. Our love needs to start here if it is ever to spread out and be a light to the world. The old hymn “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love” only works when there is true love for each other in the community. Too often in the media they have known we are Christians by our hate or our judgments. We can change that, starting right here. Practice it. Live it.
And that is how the Good News of today can shine out and be a beacon for the surrounding community, state, nation and world!
Bishop Ron Stephens
Pastor of St. Andrew’s Parish in Warrenton, VA
The Catholic Apostolic Church in North America (CACINA)
[You can purchase a complete Cycle A of Bishop Ron’s homilies, 75 of them, from amazon.com for $9.99 – “Teaching the Church Year”]