Our Gospel today is from the Lord’s community sermon.
Jesus is teaching us about right relations in our community. We know that Our Lord’s Mercy was at the heart of His ministry. He took every occasion to forgive and reconcile people. The Lord had a most powerful ministry of outreach and inclusion. This often got Him into trouble with the religious authorities. They used their status, power and interpretation of religious law to exclude and control people they did not approve of. They made it very difficult for people to be forgiven and included once more even if they were sorry. Not only were there people who felt sorry for what they did, but there were those who needed to see their offence and the need to change in order to be reconciled. We remember the Prodigal Son who took some time for the penny to drop. It is these people that we think of today.
Jesus is teaching us that we cannot be indifferent to those of our brothers and sisters who stray and do wrong. This Gospel is preceded by the story of the lost sheep and the shepherd leaving the 99 sheep he has to search for the lost animal. The lost sheep is God’s priority. Our Gospel today gives us a formula or method of approaching one of our community who has strayed or is acting in a bad way incompatible with his/her baptism. The first thing to say is that we cannot be indifferent to the wrongdoer. We are the Body of Christ and we must tend to any part that is weak. We cannot say: “He/she has made his/her bed; let him/her lie in it”. We must not be afraid of people being defensive, i.e. “Who are you to tell me how to live?” For sure, we are far from perfect and are sinners ourselves. We have our struggles with our own weaknesses. But we are still responsible for promoting an ambience of reconciliation about a wrongdoer, as the Lord wants to use us as channels of His mercy.
First, we must approach the person on our own. We must pray first as to what to say. It is not in our power to change a human heart but it is possible to God. The Holy Spirit is all powerful. Let God guide your words, your timing and how you come across. Remember first impressions last.
Second, if the person will not listen to you, take two or three others with you. First these persons can make sure that your concern is genuine and you are doing what you do for the right reason: you act for Jesus and the Church who love the person and want to encourage positive change. Jesus will help you to choose people whom the person respects and trusts and can see you all have the person’s best interests at heart.
Third, if the person doesn’t listen to you and the other interested people, then we ask the Church, God’s People to assist us. First, the Church is in Heaven as well as on earth. So we ask the saints to bring their powerful intercession before God to bear. We remind ourselves that the person’s guardian angel is also on the case. The person can remain anonymous as the Church prays for a weak member or members of the community.
Finally, if the person does not respond we are told to treat them as Gentiles or tax collectors. This sounds like we have gone as far as we can go and we can stand back. But Jesus came to reach out to Gentiles and to offer them faith. Jesus approached Matthew, a tax collector and the author of this Gospel and called him to follow Him, which he gladly did. This is surely a call from Jesus to not abandon the person but to be prepared to keep an ambience of reconciliation about him/her. Not to write him/her off but to maintain a quiet, prayerful interest in the person’s future. We open doors, not close them. We must be optimistic about the outcome.
Remember, we are not the whole story when it come to the reconciliation of people. We are community even when we seem to be/act alone. We may be the initial ice breaker. We may be the one who just puts the alternative before the person who is not ready yet to make the change. We may be another strand of Our Lord’s communal approach. It will almost certainly take time and the approach of others to effect the necessary change of life and reconciliation in the errant person. In God’s Providence, we will have flagged up the Lord’s concern with the person who, like the Prodigal Son, will one day, with God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, come to see sense.
The vital thing in our Gospel today is that we that we are not indifferent but willing to play our part no matter how small in God’s outreach to one of the flock who has strayed. This will not be easy. Even after all this you may be reluctant to act. Yet we know the importance of intervention, to not leave it too long, to act in time. Our readings today are clear: we are here to reach out and reconcile, it is not an optional way of Christian life, it is in our DNA. One of my priest friend’s has a motto he keeps in his confessional: “Risk a little friction, lovingly point out the truth, possibly save a life”. It’s that important. Swallow hard, say a prayer, pick your moment, say it with love. nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Fr. Gerard X