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Caution: Putting a Sunday homily on the Website is tricky business. All the viewer has is a written text. A homily, on the other hand, is "an oral event". It may not have been said or heard the way it was written. In addition, a roughly ten-minute homily is part of a roughly one-hour worship event in which God and God's people communicate with each other by means of ritual, symbol, song, proclamation, prayer. Not everything in these homilies is original. As a homilist, I rely on and at times borrow from other homilists and writers who are not properly mentioned in this format. I am often indebted to them.

Father William Marrevee, s.c.j.

23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year A

How do we deal with those who have engaged in wrong, sinful behavior in our church communities? That is what this Sunday’s Gospel passage addresses.

The procedure suggested looks rather cumbersome to us. What may help us understand it is the strong sense of community that was prevalent in the early Church. The sinful behavior of one member affected the whole community. And it was the sacredness, the holiness of the community and its members that needed to be protected. But I don’t think we need to get bogged down in the details of the procedure suggested. It is more important to get in tune with the attitude with which we are challenged to deal with wrongdoers, with sinners.

Let me mention a few procedures that we are more familiar with, that come more natural. It may help to get hold of the new way that Christ suggests, a more Christ-like way.

  • We could sweep things under the carpet; we could pretend that nothing is wrong. Call it a cover-up.
  • We could criticize, carp, complain. The worst form of that is getting a lynch mob together and indulging in gossip, in backbiting.
  • Still another method is getting on our high horse and exclaiming "They should pay for this”! “Let them own up to the wrong they have done”. “We will have nothing to do with them”.

These are natural, understandable reactions to wrongdoing, to sinful behavior. What they lack, what is absent in them is forgiveness, reconciliation. And that is central in today’s Gospel passage, and in the other two readings as well, as it is central to Christ’s Gospel. Jesus slipped it also into the prayer he left us, the Lord’s Prayer.

Mind you, reconciliation, forgiveness is not easy, it is very demanding. And it has an important prelude which is confrontation, the recognition that a wrong has been done, naming the wrong, recognizing it. The purpose of such recognition is not to condemn the wrongdoer, not to exclude or write off the wrongdoer, but to put the wrongdoer on the path that leads to life again. As the Gospel has it “…you have regained that one.” Confrontation that aims at reconciliation, forgiveness does not concentrate on how the wrong that is done can be repaid, but on how the wrongdoer can be saved. It operates from the premise that the wrongdoer is bigger than the wrong he or she has done. We have a tendency to define the wrongdoer by the wrong he or she has done. Mention the name of a person, and we are inclined to say “Oh, that is the one who did…” Forgiveness, reconciliation aims at liberating the wrongdoer from the wrong done instead of imprisoning the wrongdoer in the wrong done.

On what grounds does Jesus face us with this challenge? He is himself the embodiment of God’s costly reconciliation. We, in turn, as his followers are to make God’s costly reconciliation concrete.

As I was wrestling with this difficult Gospel passage, I was reminded of a poem by Edwin Markham entitled Outwitted:

He drew a circle that shut me out.
Heretic, sinner, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win.
We drew a circle that took him in.

Jesus was a specialist in drawing that larger circle. And he challenges us to follow him on that score too.

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