Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (September 10, 2017)
I remember reading a greeting card with Lucy, the Peanuts cartoon character, announcing in bold print: “When you’re down and out, lift up your head and shout.” When you open the card, it read: “Somebody’s going to pay for this!”
Our readings provide alternative solutions to such “conflict non-resolution.” We are not dealing here with flagrant, violent or criminal wrongs such as murder, sexual abuse or grand larceny. Such destructive behavior must be reported promptly to proper authorities.
It may be helpful to recognize that there are two extremes for us to avoid in addressing wrongs: doing nothing and doing too much.
At one extreme, we, like Ezekiel, probably do not like confrontation. We try to avoid it, saying: “ I mind my own business,” or “It’s not my problem.” Jesus calls us to get up our courage and go and speak to the person, one-on-one. Love needs to be the motive, not trying to make ourselves seem wise by knowing what “you should, he should, she should do.” If we follow this Gospel, we will follow the maxim: “ I won’t should on you if you don’t should on me: -- a variation of “do unto others. “
At the other extreme, we cannot make everyone our responsibility. Garrison Keillor, who wrote about the mythical town of woebegone sensed that many Catholics feel responsibility for everyone and everything. So, he names the Roman Catholic parish Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. As always, we need to find a balance between not correcting at all and correcting too often. We can never forget that we are all connected in this body of Christ. As healthy parts of the body help ailing parts, so it is with the mystical body.
But, this New Testament passage does present a complication. Jesus seems to say that once we have followed procedure and all fails, get rid of the person. But, didn’t Jesus say: “I have come not to condemn the world, but to save it”?
Excommunication is problematic. Why? It is so foreign to Jesus. Jesus was notorious for doing just the opposite of what Matthew's Gospel asks here and elsewhere. Throwing someone out as you would a gentile or tax collector doesn’t square with Jesus’ dealing with the Gentiles: the Roman centurion, the Syro-Phoenician, and Samaritan women. It doesn’t square with Jesus and tax collectors either. Mt, the author of this gospel, is a tax collector. Then, there is Zacchaeus, another tax collector with whom Jesus ate before Zaccheus saw the light and reformed generously. Jesus sought out the lost sheep, not excommunicated them.
These harsh words of exclusion reflect what scripture scholars refer to as “early Matthew.” It comes from an earlier time in Matthew’s community when it was composed of strict Jewish converts who attributed to Jesus words about the narrow gate, separating the sheep and the goats, and other exclusionary sayings. About twenty-to-forty years later, we have “final Matthew” reflecting a community that was far more inclusive as to who was “in” and who was “out.”
God is love. That must be the prime interpratory verse for interpreting other verses. All must be interpreted in the light of that.