The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33: 7-9 + Psalm 95 + Romans 13: 8-10 + Matthew 18: 15-20

September 10, 2023 on the MS Zaandam at Sea

The verses of Matthew’s Gospel that the Church puts before us are complex, and as usual, Matthew has little gems buried in these verses that should get our attention. What we really have here is a peek into the working of the earliest church communities. Matthew is confirming the method by which his community is to maintain unity and harmony. One of those little gems is the note that shifts the responsibility for binding and loosing from Peter to the whole church. The first time this binding and loosing instruction is given Jesus speaks to Peter. This time it is to the church. In other words, the work of forgiveness and healing is not just responsibility of the authorities. We are all responsible for each other. 

Something about us makes us like that idea of binding, and we often find it a lot easier to do than loosening. We like to enforce the rules and punish the rule-breakers. It makes us feel good, and of course, it usually distracts from our own rule breaking. As long as we can keep people focused on someone else’s offences, our own may not show.

While it might be easier to reflect upon these verses as an instruction on discipline, it’s really not about that at all. These verses, this teaching of Jesus Christ to us reveals God’s desire that we take care of each other, that we help one another and together seek the what is best for us all as we make our way to the Father. This is the way to make sure that no one is lost. The debt of love that that we owe one another in Christ compels us to build up one another Lord. Without the love as our motive, we run the risk of speaking out of self-righteousness, judgmentalism, or feelings of superiority. All that does is insult, hurt, and shame. 

God created us to live in unity with Him and with each other. We can know that unity because God’s only Son removed everything that separated and divided us like leprosy and blindness, and even death. The gift of the Spirit provides everything we need to live in this unity.

Our Holy Father, Francis, has been trying to teach us exactly what this Gospel encourages, that the first step toward healing our brokenness, binding up what is broken and gathering in those who are lost or feel shoved aside is to listen. Four times that verb shows up in these five verses. If we can just listen to each other, we have every chance to make a friend and find a brother or sister. 

Father Tom Boyer