23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017 – Year A

10 September 2017 

Ezekiel 33: 7 – 9
Romans 13: 8 – 10
Matthew 18.15-20

Some years ago I was visiting a friend in hospital. As I was about to leave the hospital a nurse who was a religious sister saw me and asked me if I would go to pray over a woman who was dying of stomach cancer. I agreed and we made our way to the room where she was. There were five other beds in the ward. I was introduced to the sick woman and I asked her if she wanted to be prayed over and she answered ‘yes’.  I then said that I would be happy to do this but first of all I would like to pray for her in case there was any unforgiveness in her life which is a major obstacle to healing. She was quite happy about this. So we prayed first of all to heal any possible unforgiveness in her life and then we prayed that the Lord would heal her in the way best for her.

About a week later I met the daughter of the sick woman and asked how her mother was. She said she died two days after my visit to her. But she said a wonderful thing happened the following day. A neighbour to whom she hadn’t spoken for many years over a dispute about land visited the hospital and on hearing my mother was there went to visit her and a marvellous reconciliation took place. The daughter said that that was the best healing possible as she felt that her mother was freed of that obstacle and so was ready to go to her God.

If we read and pray the gospels regularly one thing will surely strike us. That is that after love, forgiveness is perhaps the next most important virtue Jesus speaks of. In the prayer we pray often the Our Father, we pray that God will forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. In fact, forgiveness is the only petition in the Lord’s Prayer that has a condition attached to it. Also, Jesus said to the woman who was caught committing adultery and about to be stoned:  ‘Has no one condemned you?’  ‘No one, Lord.’ she replied.  Jesus then said ‘Neither do I condemn you.  Go and sin no more’.

A famous American Cistercian monk Thomas Merton once said: ‘God is mercy within mercy, within mercy’. For him mercy or forgiveness almost define who God is.

In the gospel today Jesus speaks about reconciliation. He emphasises how important it is to forgive and to be reconciled with one’s neighbour. The short passage is emphasising the teaching that we should leave no stone unturned in order to be reconciled with any person towards whom there is unforgiveness.

Jesus himself was the great Reconciler. He was always offering the hand of friendship to those who were regarded as great public sinners by the religious leaders of the time. He invited the prostitutes, adulterers, those banned from participating in the synagogue because they were not considered virtuous enough to be his friends to eat with him. This, of course, was nothing short of scandalous in the eyes of the religious leaders and eventually one of the reasons he was put to death.  We have many modern examples in our own times. We recall GordonWilson whose daughter was killed in the Enniskillen bombing in 1987 saying that as a Christian he forgave the killers of his daughter from his heart. In South Africa we have seen how Nelson Mandela after about 27 years in a South African prison began to work for reconciliation between his own people and those who practised apartheid. Instead of there being a bloody civil war, thanks to his heroic attitude much bloodshed was spared. The first reading from the prophet Ezekiel tells us that reconciliation can never be achieved at the expense of Truth and Justice otherwise it won’t work.

In the next little passage about binding and loosing Jesus is not specifically referring to the sacrament of Reconciliation or Confession. He is addressing all his disciples, those present and those who will follow.  He is telling us a great psychological truth. A friend of mine once told me that he was asked to visit a certain old man. All his friends told him that the man was a very bad tempered person and was also very impolite. So my friend said he refused to accept what the others said of the old man and went to visit him expecting the best. He was rewarded because the old man was most gracious and welcoming. What my friend had done was to loose the old man from responding as all the others had said of him. We know equally that if we continually tell a child that he or she is no good they will believe this and act accordingly. We can bind them into a very negative self-image.

Jesus, on the other hand, was always telling people how good they were. He invited them to believe this.  No matter how they had acted in the past he saw the potential for change and for goodness. They then began to believe in themselves and change was very possible. Where do you and I stand?  Are we positive in what we say to others? Do we encourage others and give them reason to hope, to reach beyond what they thought possible?

The Good News of today’s gospel is that Jesus, not only wants to forgive us, to reconcile us to himself and others but he actually delights in doing this if we accept what one of the prophets tells us. He is constantly encouraging us, loosing us from who we think we are and can do to be the people he knows us to be: a holy people. We have a royal dignity because we are brothers and sisters of Christ the King.

‘Lord Jesus, give the gift of forgiving all others and of loosing them from whatever binds them by our positive and encouraging attitudes towards them. Amen.’

Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA