23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME YEAR A ON SEPTEMBER 6, 2020 (R. 1: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; R. 2: Romans 13:8-10; Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
JUST DO IT FOR YOUR OWN SAKE!
Is there anyone of you who has never been offended by someone else? Is there anyone here whose toes have never been stepped on? If there is none, then I thank you for letting me know that I am not alone. For there are so many who have offended me; I know of so many who have stepped on my toes. For those of us who have been offended, what do we need to do as Christians? Jesus has a simple answer for us today: do not let them beat you twice. That is, do not let them beat you in time and beat you in eternity. It is bad enough that they have offended you here on earth, but you must not let them deny you of heaven. It is bad enough that they have stepped on your toes here on earth, but you must not let them take heaven away from you.
So, in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus has given us practical steps to take to make sure our offenders do not beat us twice. First, tell the person about how you were offended, just between both of you. It is possible that what the person did to you was not intentional, and the matter will be settled at that point. Unfortunately, many times, when people offend us, we find it easier to tell everyone except the one we are supposed to tell, that is the one who offended us. Sometimes, they may not be aware that anything is wrong while we keep hurting, and they may never know until we tell them.
Second Step: if the first step does not work, take one or two other persons with you, those you trust to be peace makers, and not those who make matters worse. If that does not work, then you can make it more official by taking the matter to the Church. And if that still fails, then you can treat that person as a Gentile or a tax collector.
Yayyy! Finally, it means at this point, I can retaliate, it means at this point, I can treat them as enemy and drop them in my trash bin. Wait a minute, before I run into that conclusion, I need to check very well, what does it mean to treat a person like a Gentile or a tax collector? The best way to find this out is to check how Jesus himself treated Gentiles and tax collectors. Remember, he was accused of being a friend of tax collectors (cf. Matthew 11:19). He never gave up on them. So what is he saying here? He means, we must leave no stone unturned until we win back our lost sisters and brothers. Abraham Lincoln also has a lesson for us on how to destroy our enemies, he says, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”
Yes, we must win back our lost brothers and sisters, if not for their sake, let us do it for our own sake so we don’t miss heaven. In the first reading, the prophet was charged with the responsibility of being a watchman for the house of Israel. The lives of the children of Israel were placed in his hands. He must warn them against danger. If he keeps quiet and they fail, he will pay for it, but if he does his part and the children of Israel refuse to listen, he will be free of blame. No matter what the other person does, just make sure you do your part to the best of your ability. Do not treat the other person based on who they are, treat them based on who you are. The other person’s bitterness must not take away your sweetness.
Unfortunately, there is that distorted pleasure that comes from seeing offenders punished, there is that distorted pleasure that comes from revenge. But experience reveals that revenge does not offer any sustainable and permanent solution. We must do our best to be at peace with others for we do not know the bridge we may need to cross tomorrow. The one we call an enemy today may become the only solution to our problem tomorrow. Paul was the most notorious persecutor of Christianity before his conversion. But after his conversion, he became one of the greatest defenders of the faith he fought against. The authorship of most of the letters in the New Testament is attributed to him. Imagine where Christianity would have been today without Paul!
One other reason why Jesus encourages us in today’s gospel passage to do everything within our power to win back a brother or sister who has offended us is to secure answers to our prayers. He says, “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” If as brothers and sisters we keep fighting, how can we agree on an intention to present to God for our prayers to be granted?
Making peace with people will be easier if we take our time to truly know them. A few years ago, I was in class when my favorite Scripture Professor, Dr. Michael Barber was talking about the final judgment. He explained how on that day, everything that is hidden will be revealed to us. Then we will come to know all that people did and thought in secret. My classmates and I began to do a quick examination of conscience, and I for example began to imagine how my parents will discover that the other day they sent me on errand, I took extra time to play soccer with friends but I lied that the taxi broke down. On that day, that friend who was telling me a story that I was smiling as if I was admiring her will discover that I was actually thinking about how crazy she was to be telling me such stories. On that day, I will discover that my friend who came to tell me the rumors others were spreading about me was the actual originator of the rumor. I don’t even want to imagine the disappointment when husbands and wives get to discover the secret lives of their spouses while they were still married. At that point, one of my classmates commented, “Dr Barber, I guess there will be a big fight on that day when people come to know these things about others. I wonder how God will handle the fight!”
Dr. Barber then smiled and said, “That is where you get it wrong!” He went on to explain that on that day, not only will we know what people have done, but we will know why, we will know what was truly beyond their power, we will know the true love they had for us that was distorted by the evil one, we will see them as God sees them, we will know them as God knows them and so forgiveness will be our only option, since we will love them as God loves them.
My dearly beloved in Christ, we have all been offended at one point or another, but we have also offended others either knowingly or unknowingly. Let us destroy our enemies by making them our friends, if not for them, let’s do it for ourselves. And so, we conclude by praying that God may forgive us our sins and help us to forgive those who offend us, through Christ our Lord. Amen.