SUNDAY, TWENTY THIRD WEEK IN ORDINARY TIME
Ez 33: 7-9; Ps 95: 1-2, 6-9; Rom 13: 8-10; Mt 18: 15-20
RELIGION OF FRATERNITY
Christianity is a religion of fraternity. It is not a religion that promotes self-centered individualistic salvation, but rather it speaks about concern and care for one’s neighbours. “It is not good for a man to go to heaven alone.” This axiom from the Desert Fathers is indeed a beautiful reminder that we cannot safeguard our salvation. We owe a responsibility towards our neighbours. The parable that we see in the Gospel about ‘do to others, as you would want them to do to you’ is proof of this. Christianity, as a religion, comes alive in our relationship with our fellow Christians. That is why we call Christianity a religion of fraternity. Saint John, would articulate, “if you cannot love your brother, whom you see, you will not be able to love your God whom you do not see.”
The readings of today beautifully place the same idea before us. The first reading speaks to us of the prophet’s responsibility for another’s life. Even though, Jonah did not want to go to the Ninevites, God compels him to speak the Lord’s words, to fulfil his duty towards his neighbours. We are reminded that each Christian and each member of the Bride of Christ is a prophet. In baptism, we share in the tria munera (three-fold) role of Christ, as the priest, prophet and king. We are called to be prophets to those around us.
In the Gospel, Jesus instructs us to go to our fallen brother thrice: once when we and our brother is alone, then with elders, and then with the Church to save our brother or sister and bring him to repentance. The source of this brotherly concern or fraternity is not the fulfilment of the law, writes Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans. This concern for fraternity is based on love. In loving others, we fulfil the law.
We are responsible for the salvation of our brothers and sisters. If we were to consider the cross as the throne of a Christian, the two beams of the cross would be the love of God and the love of neighbour. Without the horizontal beam of love of neighbour, we would not rise higher to the vertical beam, which is the love of God. The liturgy today gives a clarion call to manifest our love for God in concrete actions of love towards our neighbour.
There are also a couple of questions that today’s readings throw at us: Firstly, we are asked: how do I show love to my neighbour, especially those who are different from me or who have offended me? This question is greatly relevant to us in the present times. We live in a society where our own people, men of our class, religion and social status are the only members we relate with. At times, we remain callous to the needs and struggles of others. We tend to take comfort in the safety and security of our own stable life situations. The readings of today exhort us to do otherwise: to jump into action at the needs of our sisters and brothers, to be open to welcome the ‘others’ who differ from us in matters of faith, convictions and the standards of living. Only when we begin to genuinely care for the other, even when it pains us, shall we become true disciples of Christ, people who walk the Way after their Lord.
Secondly, the question: ‘How do I seek reconciliation and forgiveness when I have sinned or hurt someone’. Being brotherly or sisterly is not just a matter of loving and being charitable to others, rather, it is also a matter of forgiving others, and asking for reconciliation when we have offended them. It takes an annihilation of one’s ego to be able to lower our pride before others and to make the first step towards reconciliation. We are to learn to die to ourselves, to our ego, to our pride and earnestly seek reconciliation and forgiveness from our brothers and sisters for the times we have hurt or offended them. Motivated by today’s liturgy, the Church calls us to be fraternal and to develop a kind consideration for the needs of our brothers and sisters as we walk with one another on the path towards the perfection of freedom. In achieving this ideal, we shall begin to live our religion of fraternity.
Response: O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.
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