Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time 2020 - Fr. Adam Royal
September 5, 2020 - 5:00 PM
We often hear it said that God seems different in the Old Testament and the New Testament. God in the Old Testament is angry and vengeful. Whoever disobeys him is punished, and usually punished harshly. While God in the New Testament is merciful and loving. He always forgives and never punishes. But this characterization is wrong. It fundamentally misunderstands both Testaments.
Consider the Old Testament decree, “An eye for an eye.” If someone pokes out your eye, you can poke out theirs. “An eye for an eye” gives justice and equity. If someone takes your eye, you can only take one eye in return. Not two eyes. Not one eye and a leg. This may sound barbaric, but in truth, that is because we are the barbarians. We would, of course, never demand someone’s eye if they poked out ours. Instead, we would sue them for millions of dollars, take everything they own, and force them into a life of abject poverty forever. For the loss of an eye, we would destroy their life. But perhaps that example is a bit extreme.
Let us consider something a little more everyday: our neighbor sins against us. He makes some small comment that hurts our feelings. We explode. We call up every person we know and say, “You won’t believe what so and so just said to me.” We malign them and say every horrible thing we know about them. Maybe we even turn to the Internet and start posting it on social media. We make sure everyone knows this person who dared to criticize us or hurt us is also flawed, and actually much more flawed than us. Because of a small comment, we will try to destroy a life. We are the barbarians.
Christ’s words today, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone,” are an application of the Old Testament command, “an eye for an eye.” When someone has sinned against us, we turn to that person and seek justice. We don’t immediately call in all the forces at our disposal; we don’t strive to ruin their reputation. We give reconciliation a chance. We show them the simple mercy of letting them say they are sorry and mending the damage. For to do so saves a relationship and even makes it stronger.
But sometimes, this doesn’t work. Some people don’t want reconciliation. In that case, we bring in a few friends. We find a few people who can try to talk some sense into our neighbor, who can help him see the truth and try to save the relationship. Yet, even this is not always enough. Then we call in the Church, our whole community. Not to tarnish our neighbor’s reputation, but to help them see reality and help them find the humility to say they are sorry. Sadly, even this may not always be enough. Some people would rather lose a relationship than admit they are wrong; they would prefer to continue down their path than try something new.
When this happens, in sorrow, we let them go. We don’t get our “eye for an eye.” If someone doesn’t want a relationship, we can’t force it. To convert their heart is God’s work, and we must commit it to him in prayer. But notice where we are at the end of the process Jesus commands us to follow. We have found friends who will stand beside us, and we are with the Church. While there may be one person who doesn’t want us, we are surrounded by a community that loves us and always strives for reconciliation. For what more could we possibly ask?