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Tax Collector

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Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

 

READINGS

First Reading: EZ 33:7-9

Responsorial Psalm: PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9

Second Reading:  ROM 13:8-10

Gospel: MT 18:15-20

 

 

Homily

There is a common comment people usually to say, “am I my brothers’ keeper?” Our readings today provide the answer which God wants us to do. Yes, I am my brothers’ keeper. The first reading, from the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord says “But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.” This is reminding us to help the wicked turn from his sinful ways through fraternal correction. It is our responsibility. Our second reading, from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, reminds us to love our neighbor. Our responsibility then to correct one another stems from love.

Jesus in our Gospel offers us a procedure on how fraternal correction must be done. He presented 4 steps. However, there is a twist in the 4th step that highlights what Jesus really wants us to do. Here are the 4 steps: “If your brother sins against you,

1) go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.

2) If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

3) If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.

4) If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

The first three stages are but usual for us. And it seems that the last recourse we can employ is to bring the sinner to the Church hoping that he will reform. However, of this is not effective then Jesus wants us to do the 4th step.  Jesus said “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

The tax collectors were hated and despised by the Jewish people because even if they are Jews they work for the Romans, the Gentiles who control their society. They are not accepted by the society and are treated similar to the worst of sinners.

Now, is this what Jesus meant when He said “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector?” Does He mean to say that we must despise and hate the unrepentant and kick them out from our community? Is this the kind of last recourse in treating with an erring brother?

Let us remember that Jesus presented a twist in the 4th step. The twist is that this particular reading from this specific Gospel is according St. Matthew who was himself a tax collector. He was called by Jesus while he was collecting taxes. Jesus ate with him at his house together with other tax collectors. What Jesus did contradicts the Jewish culture that prohibits eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus, by eating with them forgave their sins, loving and embracing them.  Eating with an offender or a sinner in the Jewish culture is a gesture of  forgiveness and acceptance. This is how Jesus treated tax collectors. He welcomes them.

Then, what Jesus meant when He said  “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” is to forgive and love them even more.  The ultimate last recourse then is not to despise nor hate our unrepentant brothers but to be more charitable to them, expressing to them God’s love through our love. We are truly our brothers’ keeper if we truly love them the way God loves them. St. Paul said, “Love does no evil to the neighbor…”

 

Image Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

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