Chapter Talk – 23rd Sunday of the Year – September 6, 2020, cycle-A
“If your brother or sister sins against you…” (Mt 18:15): what are we to do? This is the theme for this Sunday’s Eucharist. All three readings circle around this theme. On the surface, the response about what to do may appear simple…It is not. Here in the gospel narrative the nascent Church is attempting to establish a paradigm for followers of Jesus. We all form and are part of the body of Christ…and this includes those who sin, or even when we sin…No matter, sinners or not, we are still part of this one living body of forgiveness and love. The epistle from Romans I would suggest is the key to unveiling the approach Jesus is asking. What we ‘owe’ to one another is nothing but ‘love’: “Love does no evil to the neighbor, hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rm 13:10). ‘Love’ in this context contains other virtues such as mercy, compassion, humility….
Our attitudes and actions either build up the body of Christ or they diminish this same body. Everyone is needed for building up this body, which is about forgiveness, mercy, salvation. When one person falters it affects the whole body. This is true on a small scale, meaning it impacts local communities and it is, as well, true for the larger community of the Church. What we can tease out of the readings is that the one offended by a brother or sister is to meet her or him with the same demeanor of Christ. The Philippians’ hymn reminds us ‘to let our bearing towards one another arise out of our life in Christ’ (Phil 2:5). If we are hurt by another, quickly reactions surface and those reactions are pushing us to hurt back the one who hurt us. This is a natural human response…but Jesus turns things inside out. We are to go against the movement to hit back with our tongue and this is, for the one offended, the moment of suffering the impact of the hurt done to one. It is suffered by turning one’s cheek so one can meet the other with the radicality of Christ’s love, a love that transforms the whole notion of an ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth’ (Mt 5:38). In his Angelus talk, Pope Francis said: “Actually, before God we are all sinners and in need of forgiveness. All of us. Indeed, Jesus told us not to judge. Fraternal correction is a mark of the love and communion which must reign in the Christian community; it is, rather, a mutual service that we can and must render to one another. To reprove a brother is a service, and it is possible and effective only if each one recognizes oneself to be a sinner and in need of the Lord’s forgiveness” (September 7, 2014). Let me emphasize this part of what Pope Francis said: reproving a brother or sister is only effective to the degree that we recognize ourselves as sinners and in need of forgiveness.
Indeed, we do have a responsibility for one another. Still it is not easy to go to another who has sinned against us. Are we ready to go to another if our heart is hardened by what was done to us? If the hurt is still festering, or if anger is percolating within? It is only the transforming love that Jesus embodied, a love that leads with mercy and compassion that has the possibility to win our brother or sister over. To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus says: “Has anyone condemned you?” She replies: “No one, sir”. Jesus answers: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and do not sin again.” (Jn 8:11). No condemnation of the sinner, no self-righteousness, no rigid morality, rather facing the other as ‘sinner to sinner’, mercy stretching to evoke mercy, ready to forgive the other who is a son or daughter of God.
Sr. Kathy DeVico, Abbess