The God of Jesus and his disciples is a forgiving God, a reconciling God, and a God that will do all that is possible to save each and every one… The community is called to be always the good shepherd… The community must continue in its efforts to make reconciliation a reality.
– Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz – Feasting on the Gospels-Matthew, Volume 2: A Feasting on the Word Commentary, P. 96
You can find the readings for the Twenty-Third Sunday in ordinary time cycle A here.
This Gospel reading is a tough one because there are so many interpretations. The fundamental scholarly context is one of fraternal correction. The three stage process of restoring relations with wayward members of the community is an escalation, working small to big.
Some scholars will tell you that in the end if the person will not be reconciled to the community we are to treat the person like a gentile or publican, and that means excommunication. Scripture scholars will point out that Jesus did eat with tax collectors, but only if they were repentant.
This is too harsh a treatment for members of the community. It is believed that excommunication is the last resort for situations where the protection of the community is in threatened. I believe that we must be misreading this portion of the scripture. Matthew’s Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep from 18:10-14, which leads right into this Sunday’s Gospel. We know that the parable tells us that even the most minor member of the community must not be lost. How can we believe Jesus would condone excommunication?
The Sunday Gospel reading ends with what is believed to be the most quoted verses in the Gospel. Matthew’s Jesus tells us that where people are gathered in His name He will be there in their midst. What is the context? The verse relates back to the reconciliation decision process for the wayward members of the community. Jesus is there in their midst and His Spirit guides their decision. The decision to leave the 99 and bring back that one lost sheep is a no-brainer.
It is also understood that during prayer and study if people are gathered in Jesus’ name He is in their midst. Scripture scholars have noted that this additional understanding comes from a Jewish Mishnah Tractate that said “when two or three gather, the Shekinah is in their midst.”
…the fullest expression of God’s love is forgiveness and therefore it is essential that reconciliation be integral to all our lives. Of all the values, reconciliation is most distinctively Christian.
– Franciscan Roots (Marian University)
The Gospel message this Sunday is never give up on each other. There is a process for reconciling with members of our communities, but as Catholic Christians we can never give up. We gather in Jesus’ name and He is with us. Jesus’ message is love and forgiveness.
If you take one thing away from this homily it should be to develop those reconciliation muscles and never stop working to bring unity to our communities. This does not mean we must all think alike, but that we must learn to function as one community.
My prayer for you is to be reconciled with those people in your community who present a challenge.