Twenty-Third Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year A

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Michael F. Di Gregorio, O.S.A.
Prior Provincial
Province of St. Thomas of Villanova

Readings
Ez 33:7-9
Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Rom 13:8-10
Mt 18:15-20

One of the oldest stories recorded in the Jewish Bible, the Christian Old Testament, tells about the tragedy which hatred and jealousy can bring about in the lives of individuals who were meant by God to live together in harmony and mutual assistance as brothers. Cain and Abel both offer gifts to the Lord, but Abel’s gift is considered the more acceptable. Cain is enraged and kills his brother. When God asks Cain where his brother is, his now infamous response is, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Throughout all of the New Testament Gospels, in parables and sermons, in his personal dealings with many individuals, Jesus repeatedly answers Cain’s question with a resounding “Yes”! Yes, you are your brother’s keeper…You are your sister’s keeper.” That is why, Jesus teaches, concern for the poor and the hungry and the homeless, must be the interest of the disciples. With Jesus it is never possible to say “what he does, or she does, or what happens to him or to her, is no concern of mine! … How others may choose to live their lives is none of my business, even if their choice may bring about their own ruin.” As followers of Christ, rather, we have been called to mutual responsibility as a way of life – mutual responsibility which surely has its limits and which must be carefully guarded from abuse – but which, nonetheless, stands in clear opposition to the popular slogan which says “Live and let live.” Unfortunately, modern society’s emphasis on individualism and isolationism encourages people not to become involved in other people’s lives, to mind their own business and take care of their own – even when this is to the detriment of people’s lives and the common good of society at large.

Fortunately, there are moments when the better, more authentic instincts of human nature rise to the surface and people do respond to others in need, to neighbors in danger. The example of first responders in the wake of Covid-19, as well as untold numbers of men, women and children observing recommended protocols for the protection of others, are a case in point. So, too, the hundreds of thousands, speaking out and standing up, in solidarity with black sisters and brothers, with migrants and all who are marginalized or whose dignity is abused.

The call of Jesus in today’s Gospel is to strive always to overcome fear and indifference which can inhibit us from exercising the kind of care and involvement which a brother’s or sister’s need may call forth from us. In the case of today’s Gospel, it may be fear of rebuke or the loss of friendship when another person is in true need – even if that is of correction or censure. We are called to take the true and deepest needs of our neighbor’s overall well-being to heart, and not hesitate to speak words which may awaken another to the call to integrity or responsibility.

Saint Augustine reminds his brothers in the monastery, in the Rule he left to guide us in our lives, that responsibility for others is part and parcel of our Christian calling. “Imagine, he says, that your brother had a physical wound which he wanted to conceal for fear of undergoing medical treatment. Would it not be heartless to say nothing about it? … How much greater, then, is our obligation to make our brother’s condition known and to prevent evil gaining a stronger hold in his heart, from something much worse than a physical wound.”