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The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: Homily - Deacon Bill Tunilla

The Art of Confrontation

As I was reflecting on today’s gospel reading, I thought to myself, talk about a double whammy.   Having to admit I am wrong and confronting others are still areas I struggle with in my life.  Growing up I found it easier to let something slide rather than to confront someone about it. 

A supervisor I once had in the military had a sign with two rules about bosses on his desk.  Rule number one: the boss is always right.  Rule number two: If the boss is wrong refer to rule number one.  As long as I wasn’t the boss life was grand but as I moved up in rank I realized the buck often stopped with me and folks did not always see things my way and confrontation came with the territory. 

Admitting I am wrong, saying I’m sorry and asking for forgiveness is another difficult area. There were times I would rather have had my hand cut off or undergo a root canal rather than admit I was wrong.  I admit as I grow older it has become easier (probably all that practice) but I’m still a work in progress.

Our readings provide a clear picture, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. Being a Christian isn’t just a matter of professing our faith or believing in the correct dogma.  It’s about everyday living and striving to follow the example of Christ.  It is about truly caring for and loving our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is about our own self-sacrifice, wanting the good of the other more than the good of ourselves.

In our first reading the prophet Ezekiel tells us about his assignment to minister to the house of Israel.  Sometimes a prophet’s message is one of consolation and God’s loving care, but today we hear another kind of message.  Ezekiel has the job of warning the people to change their wicked ways and tells them what they will experience if they fail to change their sinful ways. 

Often a prophet’s message is one that people don’t want to hear and it falls on deaf ears.  But it must be spoken loud and clear in the community where people really care about each other. Ezekiel further warns we will be held responsible if we do not speak out. 

As we know communities and people are not perfect.  As in any relationship sooner or later there will be a conflict and in no time it can look like two dahl sheep butting heads and locking horns.  In today’s Gospel Matthew has some advice for dealing with these situations.

The first is fraternal correction.  If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell them their fault, keeping it between the both of you.  If they listen then you won them over if not then move on to step two, witnesses.

If they don’t listen take one or two others along with you so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Here Jesus is quoting from Deuteronomy 19:15    If they still refuse it’s time to go to step three, the church. 

If they refuse to listen to the church then treat him as a Gentile or tax collector.  As we know in the time of Jesus, Gentiles and tax collectors were despised by the Jewish community.

The first impression we get from step number three is that the person must be abandoned as hopeless and irreclaimable.  What hope does this person have to get it right?  Could Jesus really have meant this?  He never set limits to human forgiveness. What then did he mean? 

The theologian William Barclay puts it this way.

We have seen that when he speaks of tax-gatherers and sinners he always does so with sympathy and gentleness and an appreciation of their good qualities. It may be that what Jesus said was something like this: "When you have done all this, when you have given the sinner every chance, and when he remains stubborn and obdurate, you may think that he is no better than a renegade tax-collector, or even a godless Gentile.

Well, you may be right. But I have not found the tax-gatherers and the Gentiles hopeless. My experience of them is that they, too, have a heart to be touched; and there are many of them, like Matthew and Zacchaeus, who have become my best friends. Even if the stubborn sinner is like a tax-collector or a Gentile, you may still win him, as I have done."

As a community of believers we are challenged to reconcile with one another.  We are called to win over our brother and sister with love, a love that can touch even the hardest heart.  But facing each other when hurt and conflict surface is one of the most difficult situations we can undertake. 

It often requires us to risk and creates in us an uncomfortable vulnerability, yet when we set our sights on trusting God and use his standard of Love as our standard then we can move forward.

The first whammy is often letting go of our self-righteousness when perhaps we may have to face an angry reaction.  The second whammy is perhaps admitting we were wrong for hurting another and asking for forgiveness.  Both take courage, honesty and humility. 

Following Christ can be a real challenge in today’s world.  The values Christ teaches in the gospels are not the same that often run our world today.  Trying to be a faithful Christian can make a person feel out of place.  At stake is whether we are being true to ourselves and to the persons God has called us to be in Christ. 

A call as whether or not we care enough to seek the kind of reconciliation that leads to true conversion. As in our second reading from Saint Paul to the Romans: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law –Perhaps instead of the two rule sign, this is the sign that we should opt for and keep on our desks.

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