23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time: Gospel – Mt 18:15-20

" Bring God’s Peace to Others "

Preached by Fr Philip Heng, SJ at Church of St Ignatius – Singapore
on 4th September 2011

One of the main themes in today’s Gospel, is Jesus advising His disciples to help bring peace to someone who has done wrong, and as a result is causing pain, division and destruction to relationships and communities.  Jesus advises His apostles to try to win back the sinner with mercy, as He had earlier similarly preached about showing mercy to the lost sheep who had wandered away from the ninety nine other sheep.

If we look at our world today, we will find that sadly “peace” in many countries is built on deterrents of having strong military force of a large well trained army and huge stockpile and superior armaments so that their potential or real enemies do not dare to invade them.  Such “peace” that is built on fear is furthest from the “Peace” that Jesus preaches; which is built on God’s Love and Mercy.  Thus, in today’s Gospel, Jesus urges His apostles to try to win back the sinner who has strayed from the fold in every possible and merciful ways. 

As far as being an instrument of peace to try to win someone back from doing wrong is concerned, we know that this is neither very straightforward nor easy.  We all know that it is easier to avoid conflicts with the person and simply ignore the situation and sweep everything under the carpet and pretend or at least justify that I should not interfere in a person’s life regardless of how much wrong and harm the person is causing to others and the community.  However, such passive and indifferent approaches are not what Jesus is preaching about because we are each called to be responsible for our community of believers’ behaviour and are thus expected to act positively to bring peace to people’s lives and situations.

But, if we constantly ignore the wrongs that are being done, then the wrong will continue to perpetuate and the sinner will continue to cause more pain and suffering to people’s lives.  Such extreme passivity is clearly to be avoided as Jesus in today’s Gospel clearly wants us to be His instruments of peace in relationships and to communities.

The other extreme reaction towards someone who has done wrong is to criticise the person directly in destructive and uncharitable ways or to gossip and backbite about the person or worse still to condemn the person in self-righteous and “holier than thou” ways as though we have the right to condemn him for his sins when only God has the right to judge a person. 

What then is the ideal Gospel way of correcting a person from doing wrong?  There is a true story of a friend of mine.  Let us call him Paul (not his real name).  Paul told me, in front of his wife who verified what he shared, that he used to smoke about one hundred sticks of cigarettes a day and he would go out with his friends every night drink almost a dozen cans of beer and also frequently top this, with a full bottle of brandy every day.  There was no way he would change his habits even though he knew that he was destroying himself through his lifestyle.  His wife had given up hope in reminding him to be moderate.

One day, one of his ten year old son said to him, “Daddy, do you love me?  Of course I love you, why do you ask?”  “Daddy,” his son added, “if you continue to smoke and drink like this, you won’t see me graduate.”  Paul was shocked by what his son said.  From that very day he stopped smoking and drinking and up till today, some thirty years later, Paul has not touched a single cigarette and had not gone back to his drinks.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, Paul’s son brought Christ’s peace back to his father by speaking the truth of his smoking and drinking habits, but most importantly of all, he did it out of love for his dad and not out of destructive criticism of him.  Paul being moved and touched by his son’s love and concern for him converted him because he too loved his son very much.  And, his love for his son was greater than the painful sacrifices that he had to go through to break the destructive habits of his excessive smoking and drinking. 

St Thomas Aquinas once said that wisdom is the ability to see all things in terms of their final goal and that all things should move towards God.  Wisdom enables us to see things in the widest perspective possible, and not just in the narrow boundaries of selfishness.  If Paul was not open enough to see that his lifestyle was destroying his relationship with his son, he would not have changed for the better. 

Also, Prophet Isaiah says, “The wise man and woman does not judge by appearances.  He makes no judgment based on hearsay.  He judges, even the evil ones, with objectivity, and defends the poor and helpless in the world.”  This was precisely what Paul’s son did.  He never judged and condemned his dad, but instead he appealed to his dad’s love for him; which in turn melted his father’s heart and converted him.  This is the type of peacemaker, the non-judgmental peacemaker, that Jesus in today’s Gospel urges that you and I live out daily and responsibly.

We have no right whatsoever to be harsh judges of the wrongs of others.  Jesus wants us to be as understanding, compassionate and merciful towards people who have sinned against us and are causing pain to others.  We have no right to judge others because we too are imperfect and are sinful in our ways.

    

Ideally, Jesus wishes that we each recognise our own imperfections and sinfulness and help each other to grow in God’s Love and Ways.  There is a story of a blind man and a lame man meeting each other at a stretch of road that was treacherous as it was filled with big pot holes and rocks.  The blind man asked the lame man, “Sir, I can’t see, can you guide me?  The lame man replied curtly, “But, how can I?  I am lame and I myself can hardly walk?!”  The blind man then replied, “Sir, why don’t I carry you on my back and you lead me?”  They both agreed and through their mutual support reached their destination.  (Adapted from Aesop). 

When our heart is in the right place; when we sincerely try our utmost best to live in God’s Love and Ways, we will find creative and Christ-like ways that are life-giving to others.  In the process, we ourselves grow in God’s Love and Ways because in doing so, we will begin to see everyone as our brother and sister in Christ

   

A Rabbi once asked his students, “How can you tell that the night has ended and the day is dawning?  The traditional textbook answer was that it was daylight when you could see the difference between a black thread and a white thread.  But, one of the students answered, that it was daylight when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it is a sheep or a dog.  The rabbi said, “No!”  Another student said, “When you could look at a tree from a distance and see whether it was a fig tree or an olive tree.”  The rabbi shook his head and answered, “No!” again.  The wise rabbi then said, “Darkness is ended and the night is over when you look at the face of any person you meet and know that he or she is your brother or your sister.  Because, if you do not see that they are your brother or sister, no matter what time it is, it is still night in your life.  When everyone you meet is your brother or sister, there will be light in the world and you will be a truly happy person.”

And so, as I conclude, let us note that today’s challenge of Jesus to you and me through the Gospel is to be His instrument of true “Peace” to all peoples, especially to those who cause pain and division to others.  We are each challenged to win back these people who have strayed from God’s Love and Ways through our caring and compassionate ways, and never from our indifference or maintaining a superficial peace from simply sweeping everything under the carpet or worse still from a self-righteous attitude of condemning the wrongs of others as we too are sinners in need of God’s Mercy.  We are all called to be like Christ, as Paul’s son has shown us; which is to speak the truth, but always out of care and love for the person whom we wish to convert.

Fr Philip Heng,S.J.

 

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