For the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A) – September 10, 2017

“If we get to heaven, wouldn’t it be terrible if we saw a family member or loved one being rejected and
having them see us and exclaim – when we were together why didn’t you tell me about this wonderful place?” (EWTN) 

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Theme: Actions of a Just and Strong Believer.

The just believer tries to imitate the God of Justice and the strong believer appreciates the danger of excessive use of power – these types of believers follow God’s example for being able to engage and handle the messiest aspects of life with compassion, wisdom, and finesse. (From The Franciscans St. Anthony’s Guild)

All three readings speak about the importance of right relationships and  personal responsibility. Reading 1 and the Gospel reading address the issue of how to respond to a church member (but expandable to a family member, or friend) who is walking a sinful and wrong path.  In Reading 2, Paul tells us that in following the way of love, we fulfill the law.

  • Reading 1 – Ezekiel 33:7-9      The Son of Man is appointed as guardian of Israel.
  • Responsorial Psalm – Psalm 95:1-2,6-9      Song of praise to God, our Salvation.
  • Reading 2 Romans 13:8-10      The Law is summarized in the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Gospel Matthew 18:15-20     Jesus teaches His disciples how to settle disputes in the Church.


NOTE: To gain clarity of understanding in all of the following scriptural passages that have many inline footnotes, first read only the purple colored scriptural words in the passage. Then re-read the passage along with the green colored inline footnotes.

Reading 1     Ezekiel 33:7-9                            (Warning the Wicked)

Context – Ezekiel was a Hebrew priest and prophet, whose ministry to his fellow exiles in Babylon extended from 593 to 563 BC. He was a contemporary of Jeremiah. As a prophet to exiles, he assured his hearers of the abiding presence of God among them. He constantly emphasized the Lord’s role in the events of the day. He underscored the integrity of the individual and his personal responsibility to God. To a helpless and hopeless people, he brought hope of restoration to homeland and temple by their just and holy God. Ezekiel is referenced more in the Book of Revelation than in any other New Testament writing.

Today’s Reading – In our reading today we hear Ezekiel tell of his role as watchman for the Israelites, the one who is to initiate correction. God reminded Ezekiel that He had appointed him a watchman for the Israelites. He was responsible to deliver the Lord’s messages to His people. If Ezekiel failed to warn the people that they would die for their sins, God would hold him responsible for their deaths. But if Ezekiel warned the sinners of the consequences of their iniquity and they disregarded his warning, they would die, but God would hold them, not Ezekiel, responsible.

Thus says the LORD: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear Me say anything, you shall warn them for Me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die, ” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself. (Israel is in trouble. Ezekiel is their prophet but he must work on an individual basis. Just as a mile is walked one step at a time, there is no salvation for Israel as a whole, but for each individual according to his merits.)

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.          Warning others of the consequences of judgment inherent in sin is never a popular assignment. Believers have a duty to be ‘watchmen’ who warn those who are in the world and are without God of the destructive nature of sin and its final irrevocable result—death and hell. Our responsibility is to warn [i.e. be a just believer] and proclaim as persuasively and gentle as possible [i.e. be  a strong believer], but how the message is received is beyond our control. (From Thomas Constable)

Responsorial Psalm.     Psalm 95:1-2,6-9                             (Answering the Lord’s Call)

Today’s Psalm –  This Psalm echoes the call to conversion imparted in Reading 1 and the Gospel reading, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts,”.

R. – If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation. Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to Him.
(These two versus and the following two, summon us to worship the Lord.)
R. – If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
Come, let us bow down in worship; let us kneel before the LORD who made us. For He is our God, and we are the people He shepherds, the flock He guides.
R. – If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
Oh, that today you would hear His voice: “Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, where your fathers tempted Me; they tested Me though they had seen My works.”
(These versus are a Prophetic warning against disobedience to God.)

R. – If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

PAUSE and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           Meribah and Massah are two names for the same place in the desert where Moses was leading the Israelites during the Exodus. The people complained loudly about the need for more water. God told Moses to speak to a large rock (a symbol of Jesus) near them. But Moses struck the rock twice. Water did flow forth but God chastised Moses for not trusting Him by his striking the rock and thus prevented him from leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. However, God gave Moses a preview of the Promised Land prior to his death and burial. 

Reading 2.     Romans 13:8-10                        (Love of Neighbor) 

Context – Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the most influential of all his Epistles, and the only writing of Paul’s which is addressed to a church (congregation) which he did not establish. He addresses the grounds we have for hope in Christ. Sin and death came by Adam: grace and life by Christ. The saving work of Jesus is a major theme of Paul’s letter to the Romans – salvation is offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Reading – Christian love must be sincere, without hypocrisy, and must manifest itself in heartfelt affection for one’s brothers and sisters in the community, even for one’s enemies (one tough assignment!) and anyone in need. In the context of today’s readings, it can also be noted that genuine love sometimes calls us to reach out to an erring brother or sister with the purpose of drawing him/her back into God’s ways.

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Paul wants us to have peace with everyone and love the brethren. Then we shall not owe anybody anything. He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law of Moses. The commandment of the New Covenant is that we should love our enemies as well. – Ambrosiaster) The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet, ” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law. (If you love somebody, you will not kill them. Nor will you commit adultery, steal from them or bear false witness against them. It is the same with all the other commands of the law: love ensures that they are kept. – Origen)

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.

Gospel     Matthew 18:15-20                (Communal Correction and Prayer)

Context – Matthew’s Gospel, written prior to 70 AD, is the first book of the New Testament, not because it was written first – some of Paul’s epistles take that honor – but because it is a bridge between the Old and New Testaments. His purpose was to  prove to his fellow Jews that Jesus is the One to whom all the Jewish prophets point: the Messiah, the Christ, the King of the Jews. To accomplish his mission He uses more Old Testament quotations and references than any other Gospel.

Today’s Reading – In today’s Gospel reading,  Jesus addresses how the Christian community should deal with a member who sins. Jesus outlines a procedure for settling such matters fairly. This is one of the ways in which the members of the Church must seek out the sheep that has wandered. This is loving correction. The community must reflect the merciful love of Christ. Unfortunately, there are far too many Christians today who pay no heed to the serious obligation of encouraging an erring church member, family member, or friend  to give up their sinful ways.

Jesus said to His disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (A serious step which is taken only where the welfare of the community is at stake. Jesus welcomes tax collectors (St. Matthew had been one himself at the time of his calling) but only when they showed faith and repented of their sins.)  Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (The apostles are given the power to bind and loose, the same power that was given to Peter. Note that there is one significant difference, they have not been given the keys; this symbol of authority has been reserved for Peter as the Chief Apostle (and first Pope).) Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. (From the very beginning the Church has practiced communal prayer in addition to encouraging individual prayer. ) For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

PAUSE  and reflect on how the above speaks to you.           God fully warns us to be prepared for difficulties when following our obligation in drawing one’s attention to their erring ways –  Proverbs 9:7 “Whoever corrects the arrogant/scoffer earns insults/abuse; and whoever reproves the wicked incurs injury.”

Catechism 1443 – During His public life Jesus not only forgave sins, but also made plain the effect of this forgiveness: He reintegrated forgiven sinners into the community of the People of God from which sin had alienated or even excluded them. A remarkable sign of this is the fact that Jesus receives sinners at His table, a gesture that expresses in an astonishing way both God’s forgiveness and the return to the bosom of the People of God.