Homily (Reflection) for the Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year (A) (06th September, 2020) on the Gospel
Ezek 33:7-9; Ps 94:1-2.6-9. (R.v. 8); Rom 13:8-10; Matt 18:15-20
While Leonardo da Vinci laboured on his masterpiece The Last Supper he became angry with another man. They quarrelled, da Vinci hurling bitter accusations and threats at the other fellow. Returning to his canvas, the artist attempted to paint the face of Jesus but found that he was unable to do so. So upset was he that he could not compose himself for the painstaking work. Finally, he set down his brushes, sealed his paint pots, and went in search of the man with whom he had argued. He apologized, asking for forgiveness, which his antagonist graciously forgave. Only then was Leonardo able to return to his workshop and complete the face of the Saviour.
Topic: Gentiles and tax collectors.
Jesus while teaching in today’s gospel gave steps towards reconciling with offenders. They include going to the offender alone, going with one or two others, and presenting the matter to the church. He concludes, “… if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt 18:17).
Jews classified the Gentiles and tax collectors among the worst sinners. They are according to the Pharisees and the scribes “the People of the Land”. Devout Jews are not expected to have anything to do with them not even making effort to convert them. It is written in their regulations, ‘When a man is one of the People of the Land, entrust no money to him, take no testimony from him, trust him with no secret, do not appoint him guardian of an orphan, do not make him the custodian of charitable funds, do not accompany him on a journey’. Jews “looked sadistically forward not to the saving but to the destruction of the sinner.” Hence the rabbis’ teaching, “Let no one go with the wicked, not even to try to convince them to follow the law of God”. In the early Church, some of the apostles and other Christians maintained this tradition. Hence they criticized Peter, cf. Acts 11:2.
However, Jesus’ attitude towards them did not follow this tradition. In fact, it was among the barriers that prevented them from believing Him to be the son of God, cf. Mk 2:16; Lk 7:39. And His reply to those complaining against Him dinning and winning with the tax collectors and other sinners is, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Matt 9:12-13; cf. Lk 5:32; Hos 6:6). His attitude towards them fetched Him the nicknamed “… a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt 11:19).
Jesus did not only do this but also instructs His followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them, cf. Matt 5:44. In line with this, Saint Paul admonishes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Rom 12:14). We know that love bears all things and never ends, cf. 1Cor 13: 7-8). The summary of all the commandments given to Christians is to love everybody, cf. Matt 5:43-48; Jn 13:35; 1Jn 4:21. Saint Paul rightly noted that without love every gift and good deeds come to naught, cf. 1Cor 13:2-3. Our love ought not to be “… in word or speech but in deed and in truth” (1Jn 3:18).
Since Jesus asks us to love everybody including our enemies, whoever hates is the real Gentile and tax collector. Those who set up divisions are the real people of the land, cf. Jude 1:19. Saint Paul cautioned Saint Peter publicly “… If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Gal 2:14). After the three steps given by Jesus in today’s gospel comes the most important one, LOVE. We ought to love everybody no matter how difficult it is. To consider one as a Gentile and a tax collector is a call to love that person even more.
Bible Reading: Matt 5:43-48; Lk 3:7-14; 5:27-32; 1Cor 13:1-13; Eph 2:11-3:21.
Thought for today: How do you treat those that offend you?
Let us pray: Merciful God, give us a heart of flesh that we may love everybody even as you love us – Amen, cf. Jn 13:34. 15:12.
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