FAMILY FEUD – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 18, Year A; Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (RC)

September 10, 2023

Revised Common Lectionary
Exodus 12:1-14 or Ezekiel 33:7-11
Psalm 149 or Psalm 119:33-40
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 (8)
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

How do you respond to being hurt? Some people are quick to strike back, whether physically or verbally. Others may take a passive aggressive path—perhaps complaining about the offense to others while avoiding communication with the offender. Still others may turn hurt in on themselves, pretending that nothing happened or making excuses for the other person’s bad behavior. The teaching we hear in today’s Gospel reading does not endorse any of these approaches.

In addressing how his followers should respond if a sibling sins against them in some way, Jesus uses vocabulary that places the question in a familial context (Mt 18:15, “brother or sister” in NRSVue). The church is not a club that one joins or leaves at will, but rather a family—the family of God. Jesus teaches that one’s response to an offense begins by recognizing that both parties belong to a larger community and that conflicts between members affect the entire body.

It is significant that Jesus focuses less on the sin that a person has committed against the other than on relationship, reconciliation, and wholeness. The process that he suggests is not a rigid template for dealing with wrongdoers, but rather a relational way of healing the community—by speaking truth in a spirit of love.

Jesus’s teaching in this passage is closely related to Paul’s understanding that in the church we are all members of one body. We have an organic relationship to one another, and so we have a responsibility to care for others, even when we have been wronged. When someone offends a sibling in the community, Jesus places responsibility for beginning the journey to reconciliation on the one who has been injured, by speaking to the person directly and privately. One’s goal is not simply to receive an apology or recompense, but to help the other person to live in love and so to build up the body. Jesus counsels involving others only after reaching out to the offender individually, and then with just two or three others before bringing the matter to the wider community.

Authentic reconciliation cannot be accomplished, of course, unless the offender recognizes and repents of their wrongdoing. That doesn’t always happen. The teaching we hear today cannot be used to justify abusive behavior or to suggest that one should not take steps to stop violence, abuse, and mistreatment. It may indeed be necessary to cut off contact. Survivors and victims of abuse deserve protection from the community. At the same time, those who commit crimes need to face the truth and embark on a path to recovery and wholeness.

Jesus is not advising peace at all costs. If the person will not listen, the final step is to “let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17). How should we understand this? Remember that the Gospel of Matthew was written for a mostly Jewish community that had begun to welcome Gentiles, not exclude them. We should also recall that while strict observance of the Law precluded association with sinners and tax collectors, Jesus enjoyed sharing meals openly with them and was criticized by religious leaders for doing so. Could it be that, while Jesus recognized that separation is sometimes unavoidable, he is also reminding his followers that the door must always remain open in the community of disciples?

A Hymn for Today: Vamos todos al banquete

Guillermo Cuéllar was deeply involved in the struggles of the Salvadoran people in the 1970s and was heavily influenced by Archbishop Óscar Romero, with whom and for whom he worked. Romero commissioned Cuéllar to write a Mass setting, which became the Misa Popular Salvadoreña. This Mass was not completed until the 1980s, after Romero’s martyrdom in 1978. “Vamos todos al banquete” is the entrance song from that Mass and reflects the experience of Christian communities in El Salvador as they were formed by the Gospel to take up a mission in favor of the poor. That familial and missional sense of community is at the heart of today’s Gospel message which expresses our responsibility for one another, even when we are wronged.

For more information on Guillermo Cuéllar and his work, check out this interview. To listen to a recording of this song from the twenty-fifth anniversary album of Misa Popular Salvadoreña, click here.

Vamos todos al banquete,
a la mesa de la creación;
cada cual, con su taburete,
tiene un puesto y una misión.

Hoy me levanto muy temprano,
ya me espera la comunidad.
Voy subiendo alegre la cuesta,
voy en busca de tu amistad.

Dios invita a todos los pobres
a esta mesa común por la fe,
donde no hay acaparadores,
donde todos puedan comer.

Dios nos manda a hacer de este mundo
una mesa donde haya igualdad;
trabajando y luchando juntos,
compartiendo la propiedad.

Let us go now to the banquet,
feast of the universe.
The table’s set and a place is waiting;
come, everyone, with your gifts to share.

I will rise in the early morning.
The community’s waiting for me,
With a spring in my step I’m walking,
with my friends and my family.

God invites all the poor and hungry
to the banquet of justice and good,
where the harvest will not be hoarded,
so that no one will lack for food.

May we build such a place among us
where all people are equal in love.
God has called us to work together
and to share everything we have.

Text: Misa Popular Salvadoreña, Guillermo Cuéllar, b. 1955; tr. by Bret Hesla, b. 1957, and William Dexheimer-Pharris. © 1988, tr. © 1996, GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.
Music: Guillermo Cuéllar

Image Credit: Going to Church, William H. Johnson, ca. 1940-1942, Smithsonian American Art Museum

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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