Thirty-nine years ago, almost to the day I started out on my working life. I started off as an apprentice, and on that first day I remember the foreman screaming abuse at one of the tradesmen, effectively telling him off in front of all the other workers. I turned to my tradesman and asked him if this was normal. I was informed that what should really happen is that the person should be taken to one side and spoken with quietly, as that is good management.

Today we hear about our responsibility as Christians not to walk by while someone else is getting things wrong. However, this is not calling us to become judges of those around us, this is a call to love.

The penalty for walking on by is outlined in our first reading from the prophet Ezekiel, if we see someone following the wrong path, we are to advise them to change their ways, if we fail to challenge them to change then we may be liable to their punishment. If, however we do advise them to change and they still fail to change then the punishment is solely their own. We will have carried out our duty in the eyes of the Lord.

Our psalm is emphasising that we need to listen out for God’s voice, as we heard a few weeks ago, God can be found in the stillness of a gentle breeze. We are encouraged to go towards the Lord and kneel before our Creator, praising Him and having a heart which is open to love.

St Paul tells us in today’s second reading that all of the challenges we are called to make are to be done in love. He tells us that ‘Love is the only thing which cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.’

In St Matthew’s Gospel reading today, we hear Jesus telling us to challenge our brother when he does something wrong. Again, this is not to be done to make ourselves feel superior, like the foreman I mentioned earlier. No, this must be done with the right motivation and that is LOVE. Always remembering how Jesus described how we need to remove the log from our own eye first before helping our brother to remove the splinter in his (Mat 7:3).

All of the challenges described by Jesus in Matthew’s reading are to be carried out in love. The first challenge is to be carried out in private, this is the best opportunity to win back the brother. Next, we are encouraged to take along 2 or 3 witnesses. For me this isn’t only a challenge to the brother, but a challenge to the one who feels offended. If we have already challenged a close friend or relation and we believe we are in the right, wouldn’t we want to think carefully prior to involving anyone else? Am I confident that I am in the right? Surely when we start to involve others, we would want to be certain that we are standing on solid ground?

If we have made the decision to go ahead with the challenge, witnesses in tow, and there is still no resolution then we are encouraged to bring the matter to the attention of the whole community. Bearing in mind that the main purpose of this is to change the behaviour which led to the discord in the first place. If the offender rejects the decision of the community, they in effect excommunicate themselves from the community. Even after all of these rejections, we are still called to love, as that is the key message of Jesus.

The last two paragraphs from today’s Gospel are ’Amen, Amen’ sayings – whenever we hear Jesus use the words ‘I tell you solemnly’ or ‘I tell you most solemnly’ we know we are to listen and really take in what we are about to hear. These are solemn pronouncements.

Fr Robert Draper; a Parish Priest from Dorset explains –

The solemn action of the community in pronouncing on the behaviour of one of its members becomes the judgement of heaven. The saying about ‘two or three meet in my name’ is often used to express Christ’s presence when the faithful are gathered in prayer. The reality of that saying in its context is to express divine sanction for the action of the Church in disciplining its members. That is very significant and should be reflected on carefully by those who want to insist on making one’s Church membership something simply personal and private.1

We are called to love, even those who may be considered to be our enemy!

Is there anyone in my life that I need to reach out to in love to bring them back closer to me?

Am I aware of having offended anyone? If so, can I reach out to them and ask for forgiveness? Is there anyone who is causing stress in my life at the moment? Do I feel strong enough to challenge them on their behaviour? If so, then out of love, I need to challenge them. If I do not feel strong enough to challenge them, I need to pray for them.

As Christians we never want the ultimate sanction of people being excluded to happen, we are called to live in Community, a community of love. Jesus did not want the ultimate sanction to be used either, but he outlined the foundations of the process to his disciples and gave them authority to firm up the laws of the Church. Two thousand years later, the message remains the same for us. It is now our responsibility to reflect, pray and act, it is our actions which will determine whether there will still be a Christian Community here for those who will live here after we have gone.

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Those starting out on the Baptism Preparation Course this Sunday.
  • All the students and staff in our schools and colleges as they return after the summer break and the disruption of the lockdown.
  • As we celebrate the Nativity of Our Lady on Tuesday, we remember all who are pregnant at this time.
  • We also remember the anniversary of consecration of the Holy Ghost Church in Basingstoke (consecrated 9/9/1903), please pray for all those who have worked so hard to ensure that such a beautiful church is available for us in our Pastoral Area.

Deacon Tony Darroch, 4th September 2020.

If you are struggling to find resources or would like suggestions please email me on adarroch@portsmouthdiocese.org.uk or if you would appreciate the odd call from me during this time please send me a message with your contact details and I will get in touch.

1 Robert Draper, Breaking the Word – Sundays, The Pastoral Review Vol 16 Issue 3, (The Table Publishing Company, Twickenham, London, 2020)82.