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September 10, 2017

XXIII Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A


The eighteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew contains the fourth of the five discourses of Jesus reported by the evangelist. It is the so-called ecclesial discourse, which touches upon the theme of relations between members of the new community born of the Lord’s Paschal Mystery.

Speaking of relationships, one cannot neglect a reflection on evil, on sin, on the struggle to meet and live together: one of the questions that every religious proposition must answer is precisely this, how to deal with the evil that creeps into human experience. Evil is there, and we experience it daily.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus says that tackling this problem requires a long and strenuous work: it is not something is resolved in a moment.
So if a brother does wrong to me, paradoxically, the one who is responsible for the work to do is me, not him. Human logic would like to make the first step to the one who did wrong. For Jesus, it is not so: the one who has been wronged has the duty to put a series of actions into effect, because the brother in danger is the author of the wrongdoing, not the one who suffers. Whoever suffers it has no other right than to help him.

Anyone who experiences it, then, must “go” on their own and come to terms with the other, to “admonish” him (Mt 18,15). He must leave his posture of victim and remain in waiting for the excuses of the other, he must step down from the security of who is right, he must set out to reconcile with the other. It is a physical path, this, but first it is a psychological and spiritual path. And this, if that doesn’t work, it must be repeated a second time accompanied by other brothers and, finally, a third time together with the whole community (Mt 18:16-17).

There is therefore a constant to and fro by the brother, a not leaving him alone in his evil: pardon is this continuous moving toward the other, without getting tired.

And the deeper his evil is, the deeper is the loneliness into which he is likely to fall, the more the presence of brothers is needed: what is to be isolated is evil, not the brother who committed it.

You go to your brother who has committed a fault not just to reproach him, nor to punish him, but to admonish him: then one goes to restore him, as the shepherd restores the lost sheep in the parable that directly precedes our text (Mt 18:12-14 ). It is not only the one who departs from the community that is far away, but also those who remain there closed in their sin, separated from others.

The expression that Matthew uses to say reproach actually means to persuade, to make it clear: in the Gospel of John this is the work of the Holy Spirit, when he “will make clear the guilt of the world about sin” (Jn 16:8).

It is necessary, first of all, to act in such a way that the brother recognizes his own mistake: this continuous going to him is aimed at this, that he gains awareness of the reality of the evil that indwells him, because this is the necessary step for every possible reconciliation, for the recovery of unity. While evil tries to remain hidden, the work of the Spirit through the brothers tries at all costs to expose it.

And this can only be a work done together, a work that involves both, which brings everyone into play; a laying oneself open together in the work of truth, which lays bare the heart of everyone. Putting oneself on the path to the brother is risky.

But why do all this work, all this effort?

The gospel tells us that there are basically two motives.

The first is that so you will have earned your brother (Mt 18:16): if true riches are the relationships that are given to us, then every brother is an immeasurable good, irreplaceable, of who to have care. You cannot lose him lightheartedly.

The second is recounted in the final verses (Mt 18:20): when this task works, when friendship is found again, then the sure presence of the risen Lord is in that place,.

This work, this effort, may actually fail: there is no guarantee that “it will work” (Mt 18.17). Then the brother will be as “the pagan and the publican”, which does not necessarily mean he is away from the community. It means that distance remains, and it is a distance that causes suffering.

To bridge the gap could be prayer “if two of you on the earth will agree to ask anything, my Father who is in heaven will grant it” (Mt 18,19).

The community of those renewed by the Paschal Mystery is a community of humble people, who daily experience the struggles of living together and the possibility of a patient and laborious reconciliation.

And once peace has been restored, the community prays for those brothers still distant in heart, so that the gift of the new life of the Risen Lord also reaches them, and no one may be lost (Mt 18,14).

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