Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time-A
Ezekiel 33: 7-9
Psalm 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Romans 13: 8-10
Matthew 18: 15-20
There was a church where the pastor and the organist were not getting along, and the tension was beginning to spill over into their worship.
One Sunday, the pastor preached on commitment to God. And the organist followed with the hymn “I Shall Not Be Moved.”
The next week he preached on tithing a portion of their financial blessings. And she countered with “Jesus Paid the Price in Full.”
The next week he talked about gossip, and she came back with the hymn “I Love to Tell the Story.”
Then he told the congregation that he was thinking about resigning, and she responded with the hymn “Oh, Why Not Tonight?”
The next week he announced his resignation by saying, “Jesus led me to this church and now Jesus has led me from this church. And she immediately broke out full-organ with the hymn “What A Friend We Have in Jesus.”
Is there anyone that you find hard to get along with? If any of you are saying “no one,” I don’t believe you. I suspect that for most of us it would not be just one person, it would be a list! And you know what? You are probably on someone else’s list – at least one other person’s list. We all are.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus acknowledges that even within the church there are going to be differences between the members. And Jesus gives us a plan of action. He says: “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell them their fault between you and them alone. If they listen to you, you have won over your brother or your sister.”
When we are hurt, we have the tendency to talk with everyone about it except the person who caused the hurt. Think how many fights, conflicts, wars, even deaths could have been prevented in our world if people would have faced things while they were small and before they got out of hand. Look at the growing violence and unrest in our country right now.
And notice this important detail: “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell them their fault between you and them alone.” “You go to them,” Jesus tells us. But how do we do we feel about that? “They started it… they should come to me.” Sometimes the most important beginning point is not establishing who is to blame, but keeping the door of communication open so that painful circumstances can be sorted out and mended.
Some people have a “mud room” in their homes. Jackie and Joe have what they call a “mad room.” In their marriage whenever they have a disagreement they go to their “mad room” together and don’t leave until they have worked out some kind of resolution. They find that talking about it together is far more productive than blaming each other or fighting about who was right and who was wrong.
In the popular “Chicken Soup” series, the author was teaching a class of adults and gave them this assignment: “This week go to someone that you love and tell them that you love them.”
The next week one of the men in the class reported his experience. “Five years ago, my father and I had a big fight. We never really made up. At family gatherings we would be civil to each other, but that was about it. So I needed to go to my father.
“I went to the house, hoping that my mother would answer the door so I could tell her that I love her and be off the hook. But my dad answered the door. So I got up the courage and said, ‘I came here tonight to tell you that I love you and that I am sorry.’
“And I saw a transformation in my dad’s face. The wrinkles almost disappeared and I saw tears glistening in his eyes, and he said to me, ‘Son, I love you too, but I have always had a hard time saying it. I am so happy that you had the courage to come and say it first.’ And we hugged, and things got better.
“But that is not the end of my story. Two days later my father had a heart attack and ended up in the hospital. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I was blessed with the grace to go to his house that night and be reconciled with my father.”
And he said to the class: “That’s my message to you. Don’t procrastinate. Tell them you love them today. Don’t put it off. Do something now to at least try to mend the fence. You may not get the results that you want, but you are truly the bigger person because you took the first step.”
Jesus teaches us some very practical things in today’s Gospel. Not easy things, but practical things. We are all going to be hurt in life – sometimes by people who do it on purpose, sometimes by people who probably don’t even realize what they are doing.
But Jesus encourages us to take the first step, because communicating with people that we love is far more important than establishing who is to blame. And now is a great time.
As we prayed in the Psalm Response today: “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” Today.