23rd Sunday Year A, 2017. A realhomilie from Fr Kevin Walsh, Sydney Australia. Handle with care!
First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9. Responsorial Psalm: 94:1-2. 6-9 If today you hear his voice, Harden not your hearts. Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
I think that it would be normal to say that most of us have been corrected by others during our lives! It is not the kind of experience that one would rejoice in, but I bet that most of us have received worthwhile correction and unhelpful forms of correction. Being a person who went to school in the 1950’s and 60’s getting the Cane or the Strap from our teachers was somewhat common place! I certainly had my share of corporal punishment being dished out to me in my time, and as far as I know, it didn’t do me much harm. But more importantly, did I learn anything from it? That’s big debatable question….as for me, I don’t think so.
I remember a true story from my Novitiate days, at the Passionist Monastery in Goulburn, New South Wales, Australia. There were seven of us Novices in the group. Generally, after three 0’Clock each week day, we were assigned to work somewhere on the Monastic Farm. On this particular occasion, our Novice Master, told us that we had to go to the orchid and pick Plums, box them ready to be taken to two Orphanages in Goulburn the next day. It was also a solid custom in the Novitiate not to eat anything in between meals. Can you imagine 17 and 18 year old boys being restricted to not eating between meals? So, off to the Orchid we went, with grins on our faces……..however, we made sure that the Novice Master did not see how happy we were in going to do this job.
The Plums looked great! A deep purple/red, soft to touch and a powerful temptation to fight! Did we fight the temptation? Well may be for 5 mins; then we got stuck into them, as well as putting a few Plums in the boxes. Suddenly, we heard the Novice Master coming to check on us…….he had this little cough that always announced his arrival….this little cough happened before he came into the Chapel, be meals and so on.
As you would know, ripe Plums can be very messy! We had Plum juice on our shirts, shorts everywhere…..We were caught! The Master said in a stern voice, ‘Put less in your mouths and all in the boxes……examine yourselves tonight’. Examine ourselves?????? What was that all about? One bright spark Novice said, ‘We might have committed sin while eating these Plums.’ Yes, we then thought that we were all sinners and would have to go to Confession after Vespers in the evening. Who was going to be the first one to go to Confession????? I told them, ‘I’ll go first!’ Not appearing to be a pious Novice, I was more curious to know what type of sin it was that we had committed, I really was not looking for extra grace…..this time!
In the darkness of the Chapel, after chanting Vespers, and commencing our half hour of Meditation, it was the opportunity to go to Confession. That evening there was only one priest at Vespers, and he was the regular Confessor. He was a really kind and lovely old man. As was the custom, if you wanted to go to Confession during meditation time, you got out of your Choir seat and went to the Priest and genuflected in front on him and that was the que for Confession, on tap!!!!
Going into the Confessional, I commenced with the usual prayers, and then said….’for these are my sins…….and I name a few old favourites on mine, just to make it worthwhile for the Priest. Then I said, ‘Father, can I ask you a question?’ ‘Yes, Brother’, was his reply. I then said, ‘Father, we were picking fruit for the Orphans this afternoon……’ and h interrupted,’ Yes, I saw you all down there, and there seemed to be a lot of laughing and chatter…..’ well, yes, there was’, I replied. ‘Father, what kind of a sin is it to eat plums in between meals????’ ‘Well, it’s not a serious sin Brother, but it is a mild imperfection!’ ‘A mild imperfection’ I said in response……..’Now, for your Penance three Hail Mary’s’. So, I scurried out of the Confessional so that I could make the announcement to the other Novices…I stood in the middle of the chapel, and mimicking the old Priest, I said to them…..’It’s a mild imperfection!’ With that the old priest was hard on me heals, and said to me in a cheeky voice.’ Sit down you silly man…….’
In the first Reading today from the Old Testament, the Lord God is giving Ezekiel a job! It was a job that carried a very heavy responsibility. He was asked by the Lord God to be a Guard on the House of Israel, to keep people on line with adhering to the Covenant, and to correct people if they were straying for the Law of the Lord! Now, by our standards today, we all know that correcting people can be a very difficult thing to do, without starting a massive Row! These days, we are not as receptive to being corrected as we once were in the 1950’s and 60’s. In those days, one expected to be corrected! Not so these days!!!!!!!! Everyone has their rights! Who are you to correct me?
There is something a lot deeper in this Biblical meaning of correction; it contains a deeper understanding and awareness that we are connected together and belong together as God’s Family. The Biblical sense is about responsibility towards each other in love and forgiveness. It is also about the ability to be lovingly called by others, in a loving way, to see an alternative path to walk.
In the Gospel today, St. Matthew and his community, respond to Our Lord’s invitation to take care of each other, with a love that will enable another to see that they are not being accused, but loved enough to be invited to see life differently; in the light of The Good News.
Now, all this might sound like that I am ‘beating around the bush’ as we say, in Australia! For our overseas readers, that means……not getting to the point of Our Lord’s directive on correction! In the Gospel, Jesus is using a particular style of admonition which comes under the heading of ‘shock tactics’. It was a common literary form of Rabbis and Teachers at the time. If we were to take it literally today, we would be missing the point and not translating the truth behind Our Lord words into a cultural setting and meaning for today.
In Australia, we have an awareness programme, called R U OK? (Are You OK?, its basic premise is this: ‘a conversation can change a life’) We are encouraged by Televisions commercials to gently ask this question if we know people that seem to be, needing direction, or a person who might need some correction, or a person who maybe depressed, stressed or ill. Now, let’s put on God’s Word for today! Like Ezekiel, who was given the Vocation of a Guard, a person who is trusted, looking out for weaker people who might need to hear the question, R U OK? It then gives the person the opportunity to come out with a response like….’I don’t know where I am going…….I am so stressed, I feel so sick!’ In living with these conditions, and does affect our behaviour, and the simple question asked in a non-threatening way, but in a loving and compassionate way, can sometimes be the very question that they have been longing to hear, but up until then, had not heard it from anyone. Our Lord’s admonition in today’s Gospel, is all about responsibility and duty or care for each other……Duty of care is this big phrase these days…..in short, according to God’s Word, we have a duty of care for each other…….Remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan? Who was the one who had the duty of care for the person in the ditch? And what did he do? That’s right, walked on the other side of the road, to avoid caring. Who was the one who cared and said R U OK? The answer being no, I’m in a wretched state! That carer was the Samaritan, whose community really hated the Jews! This Samaritan, showed compassion in abundance….not just the minimum.
Well, the message is clear for us all……..correction can be cut off at the pass, by being astute and being more keenly aware of each other as part and parcel of being God’s people. Where do we stand in all that? Or do we say, ‘It’s a big world….just walk away from it?’
Finally, in terms of direct correction, from the point of view teaching experience in schools, we know that it is a far better way of correcting in enabling the person in question to be helped to discover their wrong choices…..does that apply just in the school situation? I don’t think so…… A conversation can change a life……R U OK? Food for Thought.
Fr Kevin Walsh – Sydney Australia