God's Word on Sunday: We must search for the voice of God

  • September 8, 2023

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Sept. 10 (Ezekiel 30: 7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20)

So often dire warnings fall on deaf ears. People are not inclined to take advice or warnings, especially when it interferes with what they deem to be their “rights” or if it upsets their comfortable way of life.

Before nearly every disaster of the last couple of centuries, there were ample warnings. The Titanic was warned of icebergs. The Allied nations during the Second World War had been warned of the intentions of the Axis powers. There have been warnings before every economic crisis. Warnings were in place at the first signs of the pandemic. Civil rights have been the topic of many warnings. The alarm has been sounded in the case of the environmental crisis and climate change that we face. The list goes on. But people often seem to be gripped by a sort of paralysis and nothing changes.

Many factors are at play — greed, laziness, ignorance, denial and lack of concern are just a few. God sends warnings to humanity through the prophets, both religious and secular.

In Ezekiel’s day, God addressed him as “son of man,” which is an Aramaic way of saying “human being.” This hints at the possibility that the prophecy is also directed at all of us.

Ezekiel was informed that he was commissioned to be a “watchman.” His job was to break through the wall of denial and self-delusion that gripped the nation. The failure to heed the warnings of Jeremiah had resulted in the destruction of the temple and the subsequent exile to Babylon. God was taking steps to ensure it would not happen again. Ezekiel was to relay God’s warnings regardless of how they were received or whom they might offend.

Ezekiel was an anointed prophet, and that office no longer exists in our religious tradition. But there are many prophetic voices that speak to us all the time. We need to be open-minded and spiritually sensitive.

To be sure, not all voices are prophetic — some are merely the rantings of special interest and hate. But God’s voice can be heard through all the noise and fury of our time if we are careful to listen. And few would deny that we are at a critical and dangerous stage in human history. We need to turn from our ways and search for the voice and the path of God. 

God has made it extraordinarily simple (not easy) for us. Love is the fulfilment of the law; all of the rules we are given in the Bible are expressions of love.

This has nothing to do with feeling, attraction or romance — it is unceasing concern for the well-being and happiness of others. Loving your neighbour as yourself and the Golden Rule can sound rather trite because they are overused (in speech, not in practice!). But if we lived by this principle the world would be a very different place. 

So-called “fraternal correction” leaves a bad taste in the mouths of most people. Far too often it has been a euphemism for ganging up on someone, putting them in their place and exercising control over their lives.

When the evangelist penned these verses, the communities of Jesus-followers were very small — often no more than 30 or 40 people. They were also very intentional communities. The members knew each other well and the trust level was high.

It would be difficult if not impossible to observe this practice in a large modern and sometimes rather impersonal parish setting. But the basic principles within this advice given by Jesus are still valid. He is telling us to confront problems and work them out face-to-face in charity, with reconciliation as the goal.

Only when someone’s behaviour is damaging to the community and hurtful to people should they be asked to leave. This is only when all attempts at reconciliation have failed. And it just might work if we at least try.

Jesus then used the familiar “binding and loosing” phrase, and in this particular instance it is directed more at the community than the sacrament of reconciliation. The members of the community are empowered to work out their differences and put things to rest.

Even when two ask for something, it will be done. All of this is because Jesus is present whenever two or three are gathered in His name.

He is just as present in this tiny gathering as in a crowded cathedral.