23rd Sunday Year A
Sunday 10th September 2023
The Gospel Paraphrased
There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.
This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased
Mt 18: 15-20
After telling his disciples the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus went on:
‘If a brother or sister offends you, call the person out to a private place, and there, alone, have the issue out. If he or she truly listens to you, you will have regained a brother or sister.
‘But if that person does not listen and persists in their behaviour or attitude, call in two or three others so that they may be witnesses to what happens. If the person won’t listen to them, call a meeting of the whole community. If the person is obstinate, hold them at a distance from the community as you would people who indulge in wrong behaviour.
‘Look, I am telling you seriously, any decision you take regarding a person’s membership of the community, God will back up.
And I am telling you this seriously as well. When two of three gather like this in my name, I am there in your midst.’
The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.
This Sunday's Psalm
Ps 94:1-2, 6-9
Come let’s be jubilant before God,
singing and shouting to the Rock of our salvation.
Come with faces filled with joy,
with voices loud in thankful song.
Come, let us worship, let us kneel, let us bow down,
in the presence of the One who is creating us.
This is our God, leading us to the best pasture,
feeding us by hand.
Today, listen, if God speaks to you.
Don’t be like those in the desert
who hardened their hearts towards me.
They provoked and tempted me
even though they had seen all I had done.
Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.
This Sunday's Prayer
Loving God, you know how difficult we find it to face problems with each other. Send us the wisdom of your Spirit that we may know how to correct in love and to receive correction in love. May our dealing with each other reflect the loving care Jesus shows to us. We ask this in his name, confident that you will hear us.
The Commentaries Summarised
As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.
This Sunday's Commentary
This Sunday’s Gospel deals with an important issue in the life of any community- how to deal with a member who errs. It is important to place this teaching in its context. It comes immediately after the parable of the lost sheep and is followed by Jesus’ injunction to forgive seventy-seven times. Sin, disagreements, moral failures are to be faced squarely but with a pervading attitude of forgiveness that seeks the healing, not the punishment, of the person concerned.
Jesus offers a three-step process. The first step, if wronged by another, is for a person to have it out with him or her alone. The verb here is quite strong – ‘to remonstrate with’. Both Jewish teaching and custom placed a high value on private, honest confrontation and was highly critical of people, who failing to do this, criticised the person to others instead
If one–on-one discussion doesn’t work, two or three others people are brought in. It is unclear as to whether they are witnesses to the original offence or witnesses to the actual discussion. What is clear is that the purpose is to get the person concerned to truly listen to the complaint. Maybe hearing the issue expressed by different people in other ways will bring about new understanding and repentance.
If that does not work, then the issue is to be brought to the whole community. It would take a fairly serious issue to have come to this point, one serious enough to cause the community to expel a person if they did not repent.
A striking feature of this process of reconciliation within the Church community is the fact that the person concerned is involved in the process every step of the way and is present at all consultations. Nothing is done behind his or her back and there is always the opportunity of answering and responding to the charges.
Whatever their interpretation in subsequent tradition, the sayings about ‘binding and loosing’ and ‘presence of Jesus in the midst of two or three’ belong in this process of reconciliation. It seems most appropriate that the God who came into our midst to heal us of our sins would be present whenever we gather to reconcile with each other.
Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.
This Sunday's Exposition
‘Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.’ This saying of G.K. Chesterton could well be applied to the advice on conflict resolution that Jesus gives in this Sunday’s Gospel. The primary focus of the whole reading is how to deal with behavioural problems in the Christian community. Its teaching could well be applied to family, parish groups and, dare I say it, Church bodies. I know of no group that has ever taken up this teaching. A group may use one or two steps of the process but not all three, as Jesus advises.
Looking at the reading as a whole, there are a number of features:
– The discussion moves gradually from private to public.
– The person whose behaviour is being challenged is treated with respect all the way through the process. He/she is present at all discussion and has the opportunity to respond. Nothing is kept secret from the person.
– The process is done in an atmosphere of prayer with a lively belief that Jesus is present in their midst.
– While the process may be confrontational, it is not adversarial. The good of each and all is the goal. Sin often needs to be dealt with robustly but not viciously, unjustly or in a self-righteous manner.
– Finally, Jesus states that God will uphold the rulings of such a group’s deliberation! Isn’t that open to abuse? May not, maybe Jesus knew few of us would have the courage and maturity to take up his grace-filled way of conflict resolution.
Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.
This Sunday's Reflection
One of my grandmothers was known never to have said anything negative about a person behind his or her back. If she had an issue with a person, she told them so. She had a cousin in our monastic community. In over 60 years she was never known to have said anything negative about another person. I missed out on that gene. Along with many people, my instinct is to criticize someone who wrongs me to others, and say virtually nothing to them directly. This is simply not Gospel teaching. If someone wrongs me, Jesus teaches that I am to confront him or her privately, first. This often takes courage as they are likely to confront me back.
If this discussion does not succeed (and how often is our excuse for avoiding direct confrontation: ‘Oh it won’t work. He/she won’t listen.’), Jesus then expects us to bring in other people capable of helping to resolve the situation. This requires honesty. Maybe our initial points of view are both limited and need challenging.
If that does not succeed, then we need to appeal to the wider community. Now this is a reality check. If the grievance is minor we may look like fools. If major, our sense of reality and personhood may be confirmed, or disconfirmed. We might find ourselves being challenged! Disagreements often happen and do need to be resolved. May we have the courage to embrace the Gospel’s process of conflict resolution!
Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.
This Sunday's Visual Meditation
– If you look closely at this Gospel Illustration by Jerome Nadal you see groups of people reconciling and gathering in prayer. In the top right hand corner the Transfiguration is illustrated.
– This is James Tissot’s painting of Jesus’ presence with those gathered in his name.
– The Angelus by Jean François Millet.
– Jacob and Esau An illustration to the Dalziel Brothers’ Bible.
The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.
This Sunday's Mulling Meditation
Most people find confronting people about issues difficult. Over this coming mull over the times when you have confronted people concerning issues that upset you. What went well, what went badly? What would you do differently if you had a similar situation in the future.
Having mulled over the past, look at the present. What are behaviours that upset you at present? Mull over how you could confront the person/s concerned. Try to imagine at least three different ways you could present your opinion in a calm and caring manner, even if you have to be straight and forthright. Mull over how you could keep you calm and clear manner if they react badly, if they react well. Mull over how you can move on from this situation.
Now pray asking for God’s wisdom in the situation.
In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.
This Sunday's Mirror Meditation
Confrontation and correction are two areas where most people have problems, whether they are on the giving or receiving end. These seem to press buttons within us that bring to the fore all sorts of emotions from other parts of our life.
Rest quietly in the love of your God. When you are at rest, consider what confrontation does to you. Do you get disturbed, restless, rattled, unsure, insensitive? Consider all the differing feelings you have? Rest in the love of your God.
Resting there, wonder why you react like this? Give a word to how you feel. For example, it could perhaps be ‘vulnerable’. Then consider what that feeling means to you. Gently ask God what could be the cause. As you rest in God’s love, ask how this feeling, that seems negative, could be viewed as something positive.
Resting in the love of God, give thanks for the graces and insights you have received.