Saturday, September 3, 2011

Charity of Fraternal Correction in our Christian Communities

Twenty-Third Sunday of the Year A: Reflections- Fr .Michael Udoekpo
Readings: Ezek 33:7-9; Ps 95:1-2, 6-9; Rom 13:8-10 and Matt 18:15-20

Charity of Fraternal Correction in Our Christian Communities

I am three weeks in our Seminary Community, and of course one of the newest faculty members, to teach the Sacred Scriptures. I thought it would take a few more weeks before my turn to be the Presider at our Sunday Community Worship.

But here I am today with great joy, perhaps fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 55:8-9 : “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,...for as the heavens are higher than your ways…my thoughts are higher than your thoughts.”

The Readings of today for me seem to be very straight forward. It invites each and every one of us to deeply reflect on the themes of “Fraternal Correction, conflict resolution and unlimited forgiveness in our Christian/ecclesial communities.” How do we relate with one another when it comes to making corrections or helping to bring back to faith a “lose sheep” or a weaker member of the community.

Ezekiel, the Prophet of exile, in the first reading was confronted with these problems-with his contemporaries, returning from exile; the same Babylonian exile prompted initially by, idolatry, breaking the Covenant of God’s loving relationship with Israel, disobedience and stubbornness of heart. It is to this same community that the Psalmist sings to, “O today you would listen to his voice, harden not your heart,” (Ps. 95:7-9).

Ezekiel a contemporary of Jeremiah  preached to this  community once exiled, there is always hope; a light at the end of the tunnel, a hope of restoration, but for Ezekiel this must be accompanied by a complete change of heart (metanoia). Prophet Ezekiel also wants us to be aware that we owe ourselves, individually and as a community that prophetic responsibility of speaking out, that moral duty of assisting and correcting one another when necessary, for the good of the community and the church, but we must do this with mercy and deep compassion and mutual respect.

It is true that often we feel humiliated or put down if we are corrected by another person, our friends, parents, superiors, spouses, professors and formators.  With love, humility and openness we should not feel this way.  This is the love that St. Paul spent most of his apostolic career preaching about in almost all his 13 Letters. In the Second Reading, Romans 13:8-10, he says, “Love does no evil to the neighbor- but it is itself the fulfillment of the law."

Similarly, in the Gospel we are told in the same spirit of love and community care, if another member of the church sins against you go personally and point out the mistake when two of you are alone with the hope that he or she will listen, and the matter resolved (v15). But if you are not listened to take one or two other members as your witnesses (v16), something closer as was the case in the Book Deuteronomy chapter 19:15, for multiple witnesses could be persuasive. But you only have to tell it to the church or the local assembly if he or she still does refuse to listen to neither you nor to the witnesses you had brought along with you, and then proceed to treat him or her (proverbially) as a “Gentile or tax collector: “a tax collector”? This might sound a little harsh!

 But I will take this proverbially knowing in many places in the Scriptures, especially Matthew 8:5-13 Jesus extended his healing mercies to the servant of the Gentile tax collectors. Recall Jesus’ compassion to Zacchaeus and many others that the society had considered terrible sinners. He was accused of being a drunkard, a glutton a friend of the tax collectors and sinners.  The truth that Jesus teaches us is that, weak members of our community must be treated with love and compassion, individually and as a church.

I do not know if you have also notice in the short pericope of Mathew 18:15-20, read today, precisely only about 5 verses.  As short as it is  the verb “to listen” (akou,w )[= eva,n sou avkou,sh|(“if he/she listen to you,” ;  eva.n de. mh. avkou,sh| “ if he does not listen to you,”  eva.n de. parakou,sh| = if he /she refuses to listen to you.”]  akouein is  being used almost  about 4 times, once in verses 15 and 16 and twice in verse 17.

The implications of this is that, “To listen” in the Gospel Matthew is not the same thing as listening to the radio or news on the CNN, but it include an element of appropriate response. Many had listened to Jesus and responded inappropriately- the Scribes, the Pharisees. Some people can also listen to music in the radio  and get up and dance inappropriately. Listening, in Matthew’s Gospel means taking notice of, paying attention to, responding positively, repenting, being present for one another, understanding the needs of your neighbor.  In our own context, understanding the need  of your fellow member of this Seminary Community, students, professors and staff;   the needs of your spouse, friend, including the need to forgive and to be forgiven.

Let me give you another scriptural example, remember in Matthew 10:14 when Jesus had sent out the apostles on mission he gave them an instruction- saying “if anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words—shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that town.”

We are invited to be listening and welcoming- community and church- to one another- and this I must say we are doing it well here. I learnt a lot on the Rector's day, in the class room, in the narthex and the hall ways, in the dining room and during recreations- the sense of oneness and fraternal corrections among the students, among the faculty members and the staff- reminding me of that portion in the Apostolic Exhortation- Pastores Davo Vobis of Blessed John Paul II article 66.  In talking about genuine unity in the Seminary Community, he says,

 “The educational community of the Seminary is built around the various people, the Rector, the spiritual father or spiritual directors, the superiors and professors. These people should be profoundly united to the Bishop, whom they represent in their various roles. They should also maintain among themselves, a frank and genuine communion. The unity of the educators not only helps the educational programme to be put into practice properly, but also and above all it offers candidates for the priesthood a significant example and  practical introduction to that ecclesial communion which is the fundamental value of Christian living and of the pastoral ministry.”

The community that prays together, confidence that the Lord is in their midst, be it here in the Seminary or in our various homes, has a responsibility to the fidelity of its members. The ultimate goal of each one of us is to love and care for one another and to persuade our weak brothers and sisters to repentance.

Let us pray at this Mass  for that spirit of love, compassion, oneness, fraternal corrections and conflict resolutions within the confine of our Christian communities as well as for the grace to always  genuinely listen  with loving- care to one another within our respective homes and communities.

Peace be with you!