Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
For the first reading this weekend, the church gives us a passage from the ancient Book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel’s name in Hebrew was, in effect, a prayer: “May God make (him) strong.” It was fitting since, as the prophet himself said in complaint, his calling to be a prophet put him at odds with so many people.
For God’s people, times were hard. The Babylonian Empire, at the time one of the Middle East’s most powerful states, had destroyed much and killed many. Then the Babylonians took back to Babylon many survivors of the invasion.
In Babylon, these exiles, or their descendants, would languish for four generations.
Ezekiel saw this disaster not as a direct punishment from God, pressed down upon the people in a fury of revenge for their sinfulness, but as the result of the people’s sin.
Although the prophet was harsh in this respect, he also consoled the people that a better day would come — if they returned to God. If they obeyed God, then God would protect them.
No matter the people’s disobedience, Ezekiel wrote, God would never forsake them or desert them in the face of peril.
St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans is the source of the second reading. It continues the pattern for these weekends of the summer, so many of which have presented readings from Romans.
A highly educated, sophisticated and wealthy Jew, fully versed in the teachings of Judaism, Paul knew the Commandments well. While he saw a special vocation in his outreach to gentiles, he knew that God had acted through Hebrew agents in the past. The Commandments were from God, given to Moses, for example.
Paul set the Commandments in context. People should obey God because they love God. People should treat others well, according to the Commandments, because they love others. This urging echoed the teaching of Jesus.
For its last reading, the church this weekend offers a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus told the disciples to admonish anyone among them who somehow is at fault.
The Lord gives a progression of steps. First, a Christian should call a wayward brother or sister to task. This step failing, the Christian should seek the aid of others in calling the wayward to task. Finally, this step also failing, the disciple should go to the church.
If the wayward will not reform, the church should dismiss the wayward.
The reading reminds us of the teachings of the church regarding how to read the Gospels. We should remember that the Gospels were not written at the time of Jesus, but rather years later. By the time Matthew was written, the church had formed.
Being a follower of Jesus is serious matter. The church, representing Christ, has the right to judge a member’s behavior, even a member’s sincerity. Christ is in the assembly of disciples. The church is not simply a convenient, occasional gathering of people of like minds or good intentions.
For weeks we have heard advice about being good disciples. We hear advice again this weekend about discipleship.
Ezekiel gives us a clear message. All humans are inclined to sin. Bad results follow when we forget God. Searching for excuses, we blame others or some unwelcomed coincidence, saying that we are helpless in the face of temptation or did not understand the seriousness of our sin.
We are responsible for what we do. We are weak. We are myopic. We are afraid. Even so, if we ask, God will strengthen us.
God speaks and acts through the church, so, the church acts with God’s authority. It guides us and it warns us. Frank and straightforward, it reminds us that we must love God above all else.
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