Reflection for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

                                                Rev. Fr. Boniface Nkem Anusiem Ph.D.

Mike and Patricia lived in the same area as kids, studied in the same school and class, and attended the same Church. Above all, their families were so friendly and close that people thought they were blood relations.

Mike and Patricia were always together as each was an only child of their respective parents, and the parents made sure they paired them all through their time in school, even up to college.

At the end of their college, they got into different careers. Later, Patricia met a handsome and smart guy and became friends with him. He even proposed to her, and she accepted. When Patricia shared the good news with Mike, he was broken and sad.

Patricia was surprised and asked why he was not happy for her, and he said, “I thought we would end up together; we have been friends all our lives!” Paricia responded, “I thought as much, too, but you didn’t say a word, and I concluded that you weren’t interested. Next time, say what is on your mind.”

In life, if you don’t say it, you may not have it. What you don’t say when you should say it could frustrate you!

In the First Reading today (Ezekiel 33:7-9), the word of God challenged the prophet to communicate God’s warning to the erring people. Speaking the word of God to the wicked is to dissuade them from wickedness and free the prophet from taking responsibility for their evils.

On the contrary, if the prophet refused to warn the wicked, he would be responsible for their destruction. St. Paul was responding to this scripture when he said: “For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:16).

Evil in its various shapes and sizes has been able to thrive in our society today because those who are supposed to speak are not or are being politically correct about an issue that should be dealt with forthrightly. We see this situation prevailing everywhere, even in the Church.

One destructive thing about evil is that it has a geometric growth tendency when it is not checked. Most evil practices have found relevant and legal positions in our society today because people refused to speak out, including parents, teachers, government, and church leaders. Our laxity over evil has been the reason they keep spreading like wildfire.

Communicating Love

In the Second Reading (Romans 13:8-10), St. Paul tells his audience to owe nothing to anyone except to love one another. In other words, St. Paul was saying that loving one another is not a choice but a grave obligation.

In fact, we cannot do without love because the fulfillment of the law is tied to it. Recall that Jesus captured love as the greatest commandment when he said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37 & 39).

We live in a world where many things are misunderstood and misapplied, and love is one of them. An average person would likely define love as feeling good or excited towards somebody or something; love is beyond that. So, the question we need to answer is, “How do we accurately communicate love?’

Through Speaking the “Gospel truth”: The phrase “gospel truth” refers to any statement that is unquestionably true in order words undiluted. The “gospel truth” considers God’s will and way before anyone else. 

Speaking “the gospel truth” is a powerful way of communicating love in the real sense. This was the direction of the First Reading, where God demanded that the wicked be warned about their actions and the consequences attached.

True love communicates the truth. Though it may be bitter to receive when it is transmitted, the goal is to help and never to hinder, to bless and not to cure. Recall that Jesus said, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn 8:32).

Through Making Sacrifices: True love does not consist of beautiful statements but selfless actions. It’s not even all about. During the last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13).

The simplest description of love is sacrifice. In fact, without sacrifice, love will be incomplete and inadequate. Sacrifice is the ability to offer up something that is the greatest value to oneself to another. Recall that the scriptural index of God’s love for the world is that He gave his only begotten Son (Jn. 3:16).

Through Reconciliation: In the Gospel Reading (Matt. 18:15-20), our Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples how to communicate love using the vehicle of reconciliation. However, his approach contradicted what his disciples knew about reconciliation.

In the instruction, Jesus recommended that an offended person begin the reconciliation process first with the offender. At the next level, he brings in two or three witnesses, but if it fails, he should involve the Church. And when the intervention of the Church fails, the offended should treat the offender as a Gentile or a tax collector.

First, the initiative for reconciliation should come from the offended, not the offender, as everyone would think. So, love should drive every effort towards reconciliation, and it goes down to when the offender refuses to listen even to the Church.

What did Jesus mean when he recommended that the offended treat the offender as a Gentile or tax collector when he refuses to listen to the Church? The answer could be found in the manner Jesus related to Gentiles and tax collectors.

Jesus was found talking to a Gentile woman and even converted her (John 4:1-42). He ate with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:15-16) and even brought salvation to Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector (Luke 19:1-10). So, treating the offender as a Gentile or tax collector means showing more care and love.

Moving Forward: Do everything with Love.

Love will become our reality when we make it a mindset. The mindset of love involves selflessness and sacrifice that comes from the heart, not from the head. Love is beyond logic because it often does not make sense to love when people do not deserve it like we didn’t deserve it when God loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8).

May we continue to bring the light of God’s word into our world by speaking out, especially to expose and expunge evil, and may we continue to communicate love because God is love (1 John 4:8).

God bless you.

Fr. Bonnie.  

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