Homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2017
Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

Last week Jesus confronts Peter because Peter had a misconstrued idea of what kind of Messiah/Christ that Jesus was going to be, and Peter was trying to hinder Jesus from fulfilling his true Mission.

This week: Jesus teaches us how to confront others when they are doing something that is hurtful or harmful to you or to others, or to themselves.

But we can balance this with the Second Reading: “Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another.”

When I started my canon law studies in Ottawa in 1994, I had a banner made for myself with this same verse: “Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another, for the one who has loved his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

Also some years ago, I was listening to a series of tapes by the Mirnith Meier Clinic about boundaries. In this session they teach that enabling is not love. Enabling is allowing others to continue in a destructive or hurtful or harmful pattern, whether towards us, towards others or towards themselves. “Enabling is not love. Boundaries are the structure of love. Loving is being responsible for myself and being responsible to the person who is out of control with hard limit sometimes and hard consequences. That is the structure of God’s love.”

So along this line, the first reading tells us that we have a duty to speak the truth, to warn people that their actions are out of line and they may have negative consequences. There’s many kinds of people that have to speak the truth. Speaking the truth is not always easy but it is part of our responsibility to others: in our relationships with family members, friends, and even in professional positions.
• Of course preachers to their congregation have the duty to preach the word of God on moral and doctrinal issues.
• But also doctors to their patients: sometimes doctors have to tell their patients that they have to quit smoking or stop drinking so much or change your eating or exercise habits or there’s going to be negative health consequences.
• The church in preaching to the world: the world often maligns and hates the church because we speak a message they don’t want to hear. The truth sometimes hurts, but it is the truth that saves.
• Coaches to their players have the task to tell their players to “get on the ball” or they might be cut from the team or if nothing else, they are going to lose the game!
• Parents to their children: parents have to set their children on the right path, teach them proper manners, proper eating, and other things. Sometimes with adult children, parents have the right and duty to lay down a harder line with harder consequences for non-compliance.
We might not be liked for speaking out; we might be rejected or hated or maligned for it, especially the church when speaking to the world. But if we do it with love and respect we can trust that if we do our part God will do his part.

The second reading we can use as a litmus test to be sure that our relationships with others, even in correcting them, are proper. “Owe no doubt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another.” Are we holding ourselves to the same level that we are asking of others. We need to love and respect others’ property; others’ lives; their relationships; their marriage, etc. We should have their true good in mind and heart, not use them just for own good or benefit.

In the Gospel Jesus teaches us about conflict resolution. This is love in action, love in difficult times. Yes, “love is patient, love is kind, … love bears all things”, as St. Paul teaches us in 1 Corinthians 13. So we should not knit-pick and nag on others for little character flaws that annoy us. Yet sometimes there are serious issues that need to be addressed. In these cases:
• love is not letting people mistreat us or disrespect us or others;
• love is not keeping our negative feelings or attitudes bottled up inside;
• love is not being passive-aggressive;
• love is not gossiping about the person behind their back;
• it’s not manipulating them or seeking revenge;
• rather love is clear communication with the other about what they are doing that is hurtful or harmful to you or others or themselves and with boundaries and consequences if necessary.

Jesus offers us a step-by-step approach with increasing levels of support and consequences for non-cooperation:
• first to go to the person one-on-one in private, to respect their reputation and their sensitivities;
• but if that doesn’t work then to take a third person with you, whether a mediator and other family member, or a friend, a counselor, or priest, or rather Church representative;
• if that doesn’t work then to bring in the authorities, if appropriate! …whether it’s the police, the church (such as the Bishop’s Office or other Diocesan Office) or some government agency, especially if there’s abuse or other serious problems;
• the fourth stage is it could lead to separation or ending the relationship. But always remembering the second reading: to love and respect others and in all things to pray for that person, respect them. This includes to be open to renew the relationship if they later show a sincere sign of conversion and seek reconciliation and desire to renew the relationship – if the circumstances allow. It also includes keeping our heart pure and free from hatred or resentment, even if the relationship is not restored. In all things to put these people in God’s hands, in God’s justice and his judgment.

This is the path to healing and hope; this is the path of love. Love is not just a feeling or emotion or wishing well of another, but it’s concrete words and actions, taking responsibility for ourselves and being responsible to the person who is out of line and remembering that love is the fulfillment of the law.