Thursday, October 20, 2011

Homily for the Twenty-Third Sunday of ordered Time

Si te audierit,
Lucratus eris fratrem tuum[1]

September 4th, 2011
Corpus Christi Parish
Rev. Mr. Michael Taylor

Amen I say to you, whosoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven: and whatever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven.[2]

Today’s readings are difficult readings for us to hear. They are difficult because they remind us that God’s justice exists and his justice demands that unrepentant sinners will be punished. These are difficult matters and require much prayer and contemplation. But as we listen to the prophet Ezekiel today, listen as he says, [if] you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death,[3] one thing seems clear to me. We must be more intentional about our faith. We need to be more intentional about what we’re about. We need to be more intentional about where we’re going. We need to be more intentional about the people we spend time with. We need to be more intentional about who we are. That is ultimately what today’s gospel is about.
We, as Christians need to begin to rethink our associations, and those with whom we keep company. Are those people around us seeking holiness? If it ever could be said of our culture that it fostered virtue, that time has surely passed. Indeed, we are all too careless in our associations, counting as close friends those who seek after other gods, are lost in all sorts of immortality, and care not for the ways of the Lord. It is as God accuses the psalmist when He says, What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. If you see a thief, you are a friend of his; and you keep company with adulterers. You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; and slander your own mother’s son.[4] If we surround ourselves with those who do not care for God, and are content with the pleasures of this world, should we be surprised that we lack fervor of faith or that our own spiritual life has faded? This is not to say that we avoid sinners. No, for as Paul noted I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber– not to even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the Church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Drive out the wicked person from among you.’.[5]
What does this mean? Who are we to judge our brethren? Does not the Lord say, judge not lest you be judged? [6] Does not the Apostle James say Do not speak evil against one another, brethren. He that speaks evil against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge? [7] Even Paul himself writes in the same letter, But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. [8]
Yet there is a difference to be noted here. Here we can speak of judgment as corrective and judgment as condemnatory. It is why the Church can speak of those sins and evils that will lead a soul to hell but she cannot tell you one person who is there, for it is not for the faithful to condemn anyone. Too often, we do not judge for the sake of offering correction. We judge so that we might feel better about ourselves. Of this our Lord Jesus has warned, You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. [9] Yet for the person who refuses to change his ways, and will not acknowledge his sin, then it is better for him to be removed from the community, rather than by his sin pollute the bond of the faithful. For sin is corrosive, and it destroys the unity of a community. Our Lord has given us the path which offers right correction. Of this He said, If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.[10] Too often, when someone wrongs us, we prefer to talk about our injury, which may indeed be a just complaint, to everyone else except the offending party. This is not just, this is gossip. It does nothing to repair the wrong, for the person who is guilty of the offense is most likely unaware that they have wronged you. However, if they hear about your anger from someone else, instead of being self-reflective, and considering their culpability, they will react in anger, this time that their name has been slandered without them first being given a recourse to address the wrong. If someone wrongs you, go and speak to them first, and do so in charity, so that you might gain grace from God. Remember that it is required of you that if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the alter and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.[11] Remember that as Christians we offer nothing less than ourselves before the altar of God.
Our Lord goes on further: But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.[12] This is so that no judgment may be left to the testimony of two interested parties, but rather, a third party (the two or three witnesses) may gather and give an objective reckoning of the situation. In doing so, a brother in faith who has done wrong may be assured that it is not a personal vendetta that is the motivation of the one addressing the wrong. That being said, it is important that the witnesses be people of faith, for it is written by loyalty and faithfulness iniquity is atoned for, and by the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.[13] If the witnesses have not the fear of the Lord before their eyes, they will become partial to one side, and will render further injustice and iniquity, for again it is not good to be partial to a wicked man, or to deprive a righteous man of justice.[14]
Finally, our Lord gives what at first seems a harsh sentence, but as shall be seen is actually a sentence of mercy. Jesus concludes by stating, If he [the offending brother] refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.[15] What then shall we say? Why should Jesus wish to cast away someone from the Church? The answer to this is found in Paul. Note that Jesus first says to bring them to the Church. This is because, as Paul affirms, I am writing these instructions to you so may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.[16] If a person will not listen to the truth, then as the Beloved Disciple writes, he who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.[17] Thus only those who admit that they have sinned can begin to be justified, and it for this reason why a person may be excommunicated, so that in the horror they experience at being cut off, they might repent and come back with a humble and contrite heart. Paul affirms this when he writes, by rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, among them Hymenae’us and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.[18] Yet this action is always done by the bishop, for note what Paul says to the Church in Corinth concerning the man guilty of fornication, let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though I am absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in this day of the Lord Jesus.[19]
My brothers and sisters, our culture is not well, and we say nothing. There is suffering and there is evil, and we remain silent. What are we doing? Where do we want to go? Is there something better? We speak of love, of love being grand, but then we say nothing as our children continue to live together out of wedlock. We indulge ourselves too greatly. How is it that two people living outside of marriage is anything other than sin? Oh sure, we can say that we love each other. But if there is no commitment, then what I’m really saying is that I love you now, as long as it’s convenient. I love you as long as things don’t get difficult. I love you as long things don’t change. I love you as long as it fits within my five year plan. And my brothers and sisters that is not love at all. It is lust. It is selfishness. It is the worst form of narcissism for it is a narcissism which does not even recognize itself. And lust hollows out the human soul. It prevents us from being able to understand what it means when God says I love you for being you. There is sin and it poisons our very soul. It destroys our ability to love and to be loved.
We know the scripture which says that God is love.[20] But if sin destroys our ability to be with loved, what does this say about our relationship with God, who is love? Notice what our Lord says in today’s gospel, where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.[21] Our Lord does not say in them nor does he say that he contains them, but that he stands in the midst of them. Sin destroys that relationship. We know that Jesus comes into our world to remove sin. Now read what the Beloved Apostle says, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and his word is not in us [22] and again, everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.[23] Love without rules is not love at all, but rather it’s opposite, apathy. It is the statement that I do not really care what happens to you or what you do to me.
But there is a better way. There is the way that cares for the neighbor as much as one cares for themselves. It is the way in which we journey together towards salvation, rather than just worrying about getting to heaven by ourselves. It is the way which leadeth unto life as a holy people, rather than just believing that it is my personal happiness that is of utmost importance. This way requires us to look after one another, to care enough about our brethren in faith to speak of hard truths when they are necessary. We hear often of the corporal works of mercy and they are indeed good, and even necessary. Yet there are the spiritual works of mercy as well. They are to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish the sinner, comfort the sorrowful, to forgive all injuries, bear all wrongs patiently and to pray for the living and the dead. Let us thus work to help our brethren out, so that they too might share in the joy of our happiness.

[1] Matthew 18.15b: “If he [your brother] shall hear you, you shall gain your brother.” [Taken from the gospel for the Sunday]
[2] Matthew 18.18
[3] Ezekiel 33.8
[4] Psalm 50(49).16-20
[5] I Cor 5.9-13; SEE also Dt. 13.6; Dt 17.7; Dt 22.24
[6] Mt 7.1
[7] Jam 4.11
[8] I Cor 4.3-4
[9] Mt 7.5
[10] Mt 18.15
[11] Mt 5.23-24
[12] Mt 18.16
[13] Prov 16.6
[14] Prov 18.5
[15] Mt 18.17-18
[16] I Tm 3.14-15
[17] I Jn 2.4
[18] I Tm 1.20
[19] I Cor 5.2-5
[20] I Jn 4.8
[21] Mt 18.20
[22] I Jn 1.10
[23] I Jn 3.4

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