Reflection on the Readings at Mass for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A. The Liturgical Sense of the Scriptures Podcast, by Catholic Author and Theologian David L. Gray. READINGS: Ezekiel 33:7-9, Romans 12:8-10, Matthew 18:15-20.
The Liturgy is Building a Culture and a Community of Mercy, Love, and Healing
Today’s First Reading for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A comes from Ezekiel 33:7-9 and outlines the prophet’s duty to be a watchman over the house of Israel. As our Baptism in Christ Jesus raises us to participate in His ministry as prophets, priests, and kings, we are also called watchmen and take responsibility for the sheep of God’s flock. This point has been reinforced in light of chapter three of Ezekiel, where in verse 17, it was the prophet alone who was appointed watchman, but here in 33:2-6 the general duties of all watchmen in a time of war have been specified. A second graduation from the original charge is that whereas, in chapter three, it was the duty of Ezekiel as Watchman only to issue a warning to the wicked, now in chapter thirty-three, the watchman is also called to warn the righteous. Lawrence Boadt, C.S.P. (The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 324) notes that this update or expansion of duties was because “Babylon is about to destroy the city of Jerusalem, and the righteous will not be spared. The watchman’s warning would have been the difference between life and death if heeded in time, but now it’s too late.” Here again, the text would have implications for the Christian who is actively engaged in spiritual combat against evil and the sources of temptation. In the instant case, where God says, “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me,” we Catholics are not only called to echo warnings against evil as outlined in Scripture, but we also may consider echoing the warnings the Blessed Mother Mary have been communicated to us through many of her apparitions.
In today’s Second Reading, the Apostle Paul echoes Christ Jesus’ formulas for the greatest commandment and new commandment (Cf. Mt. 22:36-40; John 12:34) to wonderfully simplify the duty we have to warn the wicked and righteous of the outcome of falling into the snares of the enemy in writing to the Church of Rome (12:8-10), “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” And in particular instances of wrongdoing against each other, in today’s Gospel Reading from Matthew 18:15-20, Christ Jesus explained precisely what the process of loving our community members must look like, saying, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” In next Sunday’s Gospel Reading, Simon Peter asks Jesus how many times he needs to forgive those in the community who sin against him, “As many as seven times,’ he offers. Christ Jesus replies, “Not seven times but seventy-seven times.” That is to say that, as God is love and God is infinite, so should our love be without limitations.
The liturgy of the Catholic Mass responds to this call for us to be watchmen for the wicked and the righteous and agents of love towards those in our community by fostering a community of people who assemble together to attend to worship in truth and spirit. In worshiping God together, we agree on the first principle in the universe: that there is someone greater than us, that we did not create ourselves – we are not our gods. Therefore, because we are not gods and did not create ourselves, the first right that flows from the first principle is that we all have a right to life because life comes from our Creator. Being that we have a right life, and the first principle in the universe calls Himself the way, the life, and the truth, then it therefore follows that all life has a right to a life in Christ. As such, we must love each other in a way that facilitates the more excellent encounter when man meets God and is transformed by that encounter. Truly, the transfiguration of the Holy Eucharist, the incredible encounter and fruit of God becoming man so that man can become like God, which was facilitated by the Father who sent us His son because He loved the world, is the culture of people who the liturgy is attempting to form to send back out into the world. That is, a people filled with His Son, being sent into the world He loves to bring His Son to them. The evidence that God’s forgiveness and mercy are unlimited is the Divine Symphony itself, which is the only source of people being continually sent into the world with Christ in them. For what purpose? To be devils? No! To be His agents of love and mercy? Yes! For, if God did not want to heal the world, there would not be a Catholic Mass.
This is just one way how the readings at Mass this Sunday connect to the Liturgy and how the Liturgy is forming us how to live our lives in the world. Be in the world what you have received through the Liturgy.