We are the agents of our own destiny

  • August 24, 2011

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) Sept. 4 (Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

Mind your own business! That is our usual reaction to someone who scolds, nags or reproves us for our behaviour — and in most cases it is the proper response. There are many people who enjoy their self-appointed role as executive director of other people’s lives but are rather lax in managing their own.

But this passage from Ezekiel refers to something entirely different. Ezekiel has been appointed by God as a sentinel or watchman for all of Israel. His job is to warn of potential danger or disaster and to turn people back to God’s ways. He is the conscience of the nation. Ezekiel writes this in exile — the temple had been destroyed in 587 BC and the people were doing a lot of soul-searching. The language seems jarring and violent but it represents the worldview and religious mindset of a culture 2,500 years ago. The people would have seen God’s actions in everything, even the nation’s destruction. And the cause of disaster was always human sin and the divine sanction that followed.

Today we would be very reluctant to speak of someone dying for their sins, especially when it is implied that this death is at the hand of God. And we would not blame a nation for being the victim of aggression — the nations that were invaded by the Axis powers in the Second World War were not being “punished” for their sins. But God still raises up men and women to act as sentinels — to warn us when we stray from the path of divine principles and enter the spiritual wilderness of selfishness, violence and fear. The warning is not to avert divine punishment but the consequences of our actions — and let there be no doubt, there are always consequences. We are certainly responsible for our own lives and actions but let us not harden our hearts to the advice and warnings of men and women of principle and integrity or the loving guidance of trusted family and friends. The life we save may be our own or that of our community or nation.

God’s path is very simple, not easy but uncomplicated, and is nothing more than love of others. Humans love to build elaborate and complicated systems on top of the basic divine commandment to love, and usually these systems obscure the path. Paul correctly observes that love is not warm fuzzy feelings but justice towards others. In short, treat others as you yourself would want to be treated. But this also applies to nations. We cannot build economic and political systems that exploit, exclude or treat people as expendable. When profits and power become the foundational principles for a person, nation or society the seeds for destruction have already been sown.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are not optional. As much as people would like to think so the Gospels, especially Matthew, repeatedly insist that forgiveness is at the very core of our relationship with God. We cannot expect to be in union with God as long as we are still dragging along our baggage train of anger, hatred and resentment. In the Gospel passage, Matthew makes it clear that we are not helpless victims in this process but agents in our own destiny. The power to “bind and loose” is given to us all — it is the power to take care of unfinished business while we are still on Earth. Matthew’s Jesus counsels open and frank speech and attempts at reconciliation rather than gossip or backstabbing. The communal setting that is described in this passage presupposes a much higher trust level and commitment to spiritual growth and transformation than is the case today. It is rare that we would involve other members of the faith community although that would be far more helpful than the factionalism and backbiting that can often divide and destroy a sense of community.

There is a wonderful promise tacked on to the end of this passage. When two or more on Earth agree about something and ask for it, God will grant their request. The biblical quorum is a harmonious two or more. Christ is present and we are partners with Him in the ongoing work of redeeming the world. If Christians took this more seriously and applied it, evil and negativity would not have a chance.