Twenty-third Sunday of the Year, Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20 (Year A)

Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour.”

The obligation of mutual love is founded in Christ’s commandment that we should love one another as he has loved us. A commandment which, at first sight, seems not too onerous becomes almost impossible when our thoughts turn to the kind of love Jesus commanded. A self-serving love can justify almost anything. To love as Christ has loved us is a gift of pure grace.

A Christ-like love is indeed affirming. At the same time, because we are sinners on the way to redemption, it must sometimes challenge. Love must always be ready to forgive. Equally, it must also be prepared to confront the failings of another. This was the clear mandate given to the prophet Ezekiel: “The Word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows. If I say to a wicked man: Wicked wretch, you are to die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die in his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”

The uncompromising terms of this warning put into words something that we know in our hearts, but are reluctant to put into practice. Love charges us with a responsibility for each other. Such a responsibility cannot be indifferent to transgressions that have the power to destroy those entrusted to us. For this reason Ezekiel was warned that if he failed to speak to the sinner he himself would be held responsible for his death.

We hesitate to confront the failings of others. We are afraid that we might offend. Above all, we are only too aware of our own imperfections. Before we can confront the failings of another, we must first seriously address our own failings.

The humility with which we ourselves have turned to God, seeking and experiencing his forgiveness, is a pre-requisite for any challenge we make.

It is only in the humility of a forgiven sinner that we can challenge another. As forgiven sinners, we shall do so with love and compassion, rather than with judgment and condemnation. Jesus charged his disciples with the same responsibility for each other: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.”

Sadly, pride frequently blinds us to criticism and leads to divisive counter-accusation. Jesus anticipated this all too familiar reaction, recommending that “if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you”. Should this fail, then the wider community was to be summoned.

Jesus was primarily speaking of the discipline that would regulate disputes in the infant Church. His argument flowed from the reality of what the Church would become through his death and resurrection.

“For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.”

The responsibility that we have for each other is grounded in Christ’s presence among us. If we are sensitive to his presence – if we cultivate his presence – then our minds shall be opened to the presence of Christ in any criticism we either make or receive. It is through such difficulties, in the words of St Paul, that the body of Christ is brought to perfection in our families and homes. “I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to lead a life worthy of your vocation. Bear with one another charitably, in complete selflessness, gentleness and patience. Do all that you can to preserve the unity of the Spirit by the peace that binds you together” (Eph 4:1ff).