23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]
September 6, 2020
Today’s Gospel is well known as the fraternal correction or the way to correct our brothers. However, if we carefully read the text, we discover what being corrected is not simply about our appearance, mannerism, or etiquette. The concern of Jesus is about sin. Jesus does not teach us to correct someone who has a weird hairstyle, or someone who sleeps with a huge snore, or someone whose way of talking we do not like. If there is something that makes Jesus angry is none other than sin. Why so? Sin can destroy our relationship with God, and it closes the gate of heaven. Jesus’ mission is to bring forgiveness of sin and to undo the effects of sin, but if we refuse to repent and keep sinning, we throw insults to the sacrifice of Christ.
Jesus gives us the three stages of correcting a brother who lives in sin. The first level is a personal and compassionate reminder. We must not speak behind the person, but rather dare to confront and yet with charity. Just in case, the person is still obstinate, we activate the second level: calling two or three witnesses. The presence of witnesses will substantiate our claim. Yet, if the person remains stubborn, we shall appeal to the Church. We need to remember that the Church in Matthew 18 is not just an assembly of the believers, but the apostles, the authorities of the Church. If again, the person persists in his sin, then the Church has to treat him like gentiles and tax collectors.
Gentiles are non-Jewish nations and because they were not circumcised and worshiped idols, they are considered unclean and sinners. While the tax collectors were people who work for the Roman empire, and because their constant contact with the Romans and their corrupt practices, made them also unclean and sinners. The unclean people are not allowed to enter the Temple and synagogues to worship God. Thus, treating an obstinate brother like a pagan and tax collector means to separate him from the assembly in worship. This technical term for this is excommunication. This word is coming Latin words: “ex-” meaning outside, and “communion” meaning community or fellowship. Thus, being excommunicated is outside of the worshiping community. Thus, excommunicated persons are not allowed to receive the Holy communion, the sign of unity of the Body of Christ.
Excommunication seems to be too cruel, yet looking in a bigger perspective, it is a way of mercy, rather simply a tool of punishment. In fact, the Church rarely pronounced the sentence of excommunication. Most of the cases, it is the people who walk away from the Church and separate themselves from God and His people. We must also remember that Jesus is loving the gentiles and the tax collectors, calling them to repentance and performing many miracles for them. Our love for our brothers who are living sin remains and even gets intensified. The reason is that Jesus does not want them to perish, but live with God. We correct our erring brothers and sisters not because we hate them, but because we love them and because we are part of the same family of God. We are responsible for one another and we shall keep our brothers and sisters in our way toward heaven.
Valentinus Bayuhadi Ruseno, OP
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