Saturday 9 September 2023

Sunday, September 10, 2023 - Collectively, not alone

To read the texts click on the texts: Ezek33:7-9; Rom13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20

As a child in school I leant a poem which had great rhyme and meter and which when recited aloud with actions that accompanied it sounded good to the ear. It went like:

I had a little tea party

This afternoon at three

It was very small

Three guests in all

Just I, myself and me.

Myself ate up all the sandwiches

While I drank up the tea

 It was also "I" who ate the pie

And passed the cakes to me.

It was only many years later that I realized that it was one of the most selfish poems that one could recite. The focus in the poem was on one individual and one individual alone; I, myself and Me. This is surely not the Christian way of proceeding. In Christianity we are individuals but in and within a community.

In the Bible we come across certain passages that are as relevant and practical in our lives today as they were thousands of years ao when they were first written. Today’s readings are good examples of such passages. Together they reminds us that as faithful Christians it is our responsibility to reach out to the errant members of the community and bring them back into the fold. Christianity, is both an individual and communitarian religion and every one of us are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. They even go on to recommend practical steps on how to go about doing this. They invite us to review our ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude toward fallen and lax members of the Church, reminding us that it is our business to reach out to them.

As members of the Church, we are not just a priestly people who offer sacrifice; we are also a prophetic people, which means that we are God’s spokespersons. We speak on behalf of God. Today’s first reading is, in fact, a compact job description that God gave to the prophet Ezekiel on what it means to be a prophetic person. As sentinel or watchman, Ezekiel places himself as an intermediary between God and the people. He realizes that it is his responsibility as a member of the community to ensure that all in the community are saved from sin. He cannot be merely content with his own salvation. He must do whatever it takes to bring those who stray back to the fold.

The Gospel text from Matthew deals with discipline, reconciliation and the presence of the Lord. This text is part of the fourth discourse in the Gospel commonly known as the “Community Discourse”. The concern in these verses is with community or congregational life and not primarily about personal relations. Like Ezekiel, every Christian is also called to be concerned about other members of the community, since ours is a faith of a community and never of merely individuals. We act together, so we can help one another and so we can work to God’s name, thereby multiplying our resources and ability to do what God calls us to do. Our community is the lifeline to the experience of God and an example of the power of God moving among God’s people.

The procedures that Matthew suggests for bringing back an errant member of the community may seem stringent. However, when we realize that the point is one of radical care and concern and not self righteousness or vindictiveness, then they take on a new meaning. The errant member, the leaders of the community and the community are all protected from arbitrariness and self-centered actions.

While a private spiritual and prayer life is essential for each of us and we need to spend time alone with God, it is likely to become dry and turn inward, if it is not infused with regular doses of shared worship and prayer with others, gathered in the Lord’s name. The gathering together also signifies how important we are to each other and how much we depend on each other. Through our link to one another through Christ, there is a power in our community, uniting the values of God to our values on earth. This is how Jesus enables us to use God’s power for healing and life-giving love effectively among God’s people.We come together, we stay together, we work together in our Lord’s name, bringing to focus the presence of God and unleashing the power of the Spirit to transform our lives and the lives of all God’s children.

In the second reading of today Paul, speaking in a similar vein, challenges the community at Rome to show their love for one another in action. It is love which characterizes the Christian community and it is love which will sustain and nourish it. This love must also show itself as a commitment to justice – a love that never does any wrong to anyone. To be Christian thus means to be one who not only loves, but also one led by love to reach out to anyone who is in need. It is to be conscious of the fact that even if one member of the community does not feel part of the community, the community is not whole.

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