Scripture Readings, Sept. 10, 2023

Sept. 10, 2023

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Ezekiel 33:7-9

Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9

Romans 13:8-10

Matthew 18:15-20

The “grudge”: an Anglo-Saxon word if ever there was one, related etymologically to “grouch” and “grumble,” and leading inevitably to every manner of grousing, groaning and general grumpiness. A perfect pastime for those eternally grinding their teeth — in between growls, of course.

In heaven, there will be no grudges, so we are well-advised to work them out here, since “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) Take a grudge with you to the grave, and it will follow you for all eternity. How grisly a prospect to rise from the dead with unresolved “grrrr’s” forever grating at your soul.

We might not like to think about the eternal ramifications of our actions, but this week’s Gospel has us look them square in the face. “What you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and what you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” The time to untie knots is now.

Where knots arise in our relationships with others, it is tempting either to lash out in a spirit of vendetta or to regress in a spirit of passive rumination. Neither is advised by God’s Word.

The prophecy of Ezekiel, rather, counsels us not to plot against our enemies, but to warn them of the dangers they are in. And he exhorts us to speak courageously that which needs to be said, speaking out to dissuade the wicked from his way, or else be held responsible for his death — incurring a death penalty of our own.

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95:8) “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” (Romans 13:8) In other words, do not get stuck in the debtor’s prison of the unforgiving grouch. Join God’s work of reconciling the world to himself in Christ. He has entrusted to us the message of reconciliation. (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:19, this week’s Gospel Acclamation) And it is a message that must be shared.

This is demanding work, but the payoff is eternal, which is why it is also truly necessary.

The process couldn’t be made clearer.

We must actively seek to reconcile discreetly with those who have wronged us, in hopes of winning them over. Far easier said than done.

If this fails, we return with one, maybe two, others, not in order to gang up on the person, but again so as to win the offender over as discreetly as possible.

If this too fails, Jesus advises us to bring the person to the Church. In a land of lawsuits, this seems like a frivolous approach, but it reminds us that we have become kin in Christ. Siblings merit a resolution at the kitchen table.

If the person parries this, too, hand him over to the powers that be “as you would a Gentile or a tax collector,” and yet never surrender the power of prayer — preferably made in numbers. “For if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.” (Matthew 18:19) Even the unrepentant one, perhaps wasting away in that debtor’s prison, merits no grudge — only more fervent prayer from the faithful for his conversion.

At the heart of all of this is not so much a demand for reparation as a plea to reestablish relationship, since that is all that lasts forever. “You shall love the Lord your God … and … you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37, 39; cf. Romans 13:9 and Leviticus 19:18) “On these … depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40) — the long history of God’s salvific work.

“You can’t take it with you” applies not to the tight-gripped grudge. Let it go in the ocean of God’s mercy. Turn your growls to gratitude for all the good our Lord wants to bring about, sending his rain upon the just and the unjust. (cf. Matthew 5:45) Be “watchmen” of reconciliation, and “you shall save yourself.” (Ezekiel 33:7, 9)