1990 Sept 9 – 23rd sun Ord Time (Prison Writings)
23rd Sun in Ord Time Cycle A
Ez. .33: 7-9
Rom. 13: 8-10
“If Your Brother Should Commit Some Wrong Against You.” Matt. 8:15
When reading this weeks Gospel Iam reminded that each was written for a.particular Faith community for a specific time and place. In writing their Gospels the authors adapted the Jesus story to meet the needs of their communities. Each Gospel account of Jesus’ life is indirectly addressing the problems and concerns of a particular faith community. However, in this weeks Gospel the pretense of telling the Jesus story is dropped and Matthew directly addresses a problem his faith community was experiencing, how to deal with a person who was causing a division within the larger community. In a sense we ace seeing an early Church community work out a procedure for excommunication. .
It should be noted that the procedure Matthew develops here is a local community solution. There was no centralized authority in the church as yet, each community had to deal with their own issues independently in fraternal communion with other Faith communities. There was no common ordination or governing structure for the Church like there is today. There was no Canon Law as yet that each community was obligated to follow. Each community was responsible and free to grow and develop in the Spirit of Christ as they saw fit. Also, the offense in question is not solely a private wrong done to an individual, it was also a wrong that seriously threatened the life of the community.
In Chapter 15-17 we have a three step procedure of confrontation. Matthew borrows from Lv. 19: 17-18 and from Dt.. 19:15. The first step is done in private; a member of the community gently reproves the offender. If the offender refuses to repent, the second step is taken. Two or three other members of the community go to the offender and gently confronts them. Finally ,if this second ef fort does not work the matter is brought to the entire community . If all three steps fail the community has the authority to exclude the offender from their fellowship and to begin to treat them as they would “a Gentile or tax collector,”
“I Assure You, Whatever You Declare Bound On Earth Shall Be Bound In Heaven And, Whatever You Declare Loosed On Earth Shall Be Held Loosed In Heaven” Matt. 16:19 and 18:18
Just two weeks ago in the Gospel from Matthew we read where Peter was given the authority to hold people bound or loosen the bounds held on people within the Church. This week Matthew gives the same authority to the local church. In Vs. 18:18 Matthew matches the authority given to Peter word for word in 16:19. (This should raise a lot of questions in the minds of those Catholic apologists who saw in Matt.16: 19 the basis of the Popes infallibility.) Matthew believes that the community should have full responsibility for the integrity and control of their own fellowship. In our Gospel this week Matthew, through Jesus gives the local community the authority to hold people bound or to loosen people’s bounds. This authority includes the power to exclude a person from their fellowship with explicit instructions and how this is to be done. (Matt. 18:15-17)
“Where Two or Three Are Gathered In My Name, There Am I In Their Midst. ” Matt. 18: 20
Matthew puts a lot of trust in the authority of the local community. This trust rests on Matthew’s complete confidence in the Spirit of Christ working in and through the grass roots Church. For Matthew this Spirit of Christ is as infallibly present whenever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, as it is infallibly present in the successor of St. Peter.
Unity is Diversity:
Tow things strike me about this weeks Gospel when I apply its lessons to my understanding of Church. The first is that a Church large or small has a right and an obligation to decide who is and can remain a member. Without this basic authority a Faith community would be in a constant state of confusion and internal disorder. Any organization, Churches included, needs to be able to decide this issue so it can devote the bulk of its energies to its overall mission.
Secondly, the unity of Christianity rests in the Spirit of Christ and not in some hoped for future monolithic Church structure. No one creed, no one set of dogmas, no one tradition, or government structure can fully embrace the Spirit of Christ. Each of us must search our hearts and embrace the faith community and Christian tradition that best embodies the Spirit of Christ for us. The Unity we all pray for will be achieved through great diversity.
The Prophets Dilemma – Part II, “You, Son of Man, I Have Appointed Watchman For The House of Israel.” EZ 33:7
Last week we read a passionate and personal plea from the prophet, Jeremiah, addressed to God for relief from the personal suffering his prophetic message had brought him. This week we read how God prods Ezekiel to speak his prophetic message or risk losing his very self. Ezekiel lived around the same time as Jeremiah. Oddly enough, neither prophet mentions the other in their respected writings yet it is unlikely they did not know of each other. Ezekiel was a priest of the Temple at the time of the first Babylonians takeover of Jerusalem (598 B.C.). The Babylonians sacked Jerusalem taking the King, his family and many of its leading citizens into captivity, among them Ezekiel. Before the Babylonians left they installed a puppet government in Jerusalem.
Ezekiel received his prophetic call while living in exile. He had the unpleasant task to announce to the exiles the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem, something the exiles did not want to hear. There were a number of prophets telling them that all would be well and Ezekiel’s message was not well received.
In this weeks text the Lord has appointed Ezekiel the “Watchman” for Israel. The watchman was the person who traditionally sounded the alarm for the city in case of attack. The Lord uses the image of the watchman to show Ezekiel his responsibilities as a prophet of God. The Lord tells Ezekiel that if the watchman is told of the wickedness of People and the watchman does not do a11 he can to dissuade the wicked from their ways, the wicked shall die but the watchman will be held responsible. Yet if the watchman does all he can to dissuade the wicked from their ways and the wicked still do not heed his warning, the wicked will surely die but the watchman will save himself.
This week’s, text from Ezekiel is the sequel to last weeks text from Jeremiah. God has laid out for Ezekiel the heavy responsibility of being a prophet. If a prophet’s message is bad they must do all they can to dissuade the people from their wicked ways. They have no other option. To refuse to deliver their prophetic message is to risk their own selves. It ‘s all part of the Prophetic Dilemma.
“Owe No Debt to Anyone Except The Debt That Binds Us To Love One Another. They Who Love Their Neighbor Have Fulfilled The Law “Rm.13: 8
This weeks readings from Ezekiel and Matthew have a common theme in that they challenge us to be responsible. In our first reading God lays out for Ezekiel the heavy responsibility of being a prophet. In the Gospel, the early Church is given the responsibility of making the hard decision to exclude an errant member of the community. In each case a degree of justice is called for but justice is not the bottom line. A prophet may be right and just in their message but still not fulfill their prophetic obligation. A faith community may be right and just in excluding an errant member of their fellowship but still not be living up to their obligation as a Christian community.
Our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans gets to the heart and soul of responsible Christian behavior. Paul tells us to owe no debt except the debt of love that binds us all to each other. For Paul, love is the fulfillment of the law. Paul identifies the core of the Christian life. It is love. Love should be at the heart and soul of everything we do.
Ezekiel is a good example of a prophet who loved his people. When it became clear that the Jews were not going to change their ways and the destruction of Jerusalem was inevitable Ezekiel changed his message. He made a complete turn around and began to proclaim a message of hope for the future. He told his despairing people that the Lord God will not abandon them forever, that God will one day return them to their homeland, to a new and improved Jerusalem. Ezekiel did not leave his people in their darkest moment. He did not gloat over his being right about the fall of Jerusalem. He loved his people very much. He went through the dark moments with them and sought out hope on the other side.
In Matthew’s Gospel once the church excluded its errant member from their fellowship they were to treat the excluded member as they would a Gentile or a tax collector. But wasn’t it to the Gentiles and tax collectors and all other outcast that Jesus intended his message? Yes! Once an errant member is excluded from the faith community, the community’s active love for that person does not cease. In some ways it should increase. Such unconditional love is impossible without the ability to forgive. Forgiveness is a whole other subject, to be dealt with next week.
90 10 09 – Light At The End of The Tunnel:
As I write this week’s reflections I’m approaching the fourth month of my six-month sentence. I finally got the Federal Bureau of Prisons to send me my official out date notice. They are going to let me go on October 29th, that’s six months to the day of my trial and sentencing. This official notice was sent to me when I was at Sarpy County Jail two weeks into my sentence but the Sarpy County officials never passed it on, not surprising their attitude towards me.
I got a second visit from Bishop Dudley this past week. We talked about some possibilities for me to work in Sioux Falls should I be cleared by the Bureau of Prisons for the work release program. I’ve written the Denver office asking for Permission. I also asked Bishop Bullock and Bishop Dudley to write letters of support for me too. Bishop Dudley is excited about it. He says there is a shelter in town that could use some help. Though I clearly qualify for such a program, being a nonviolent, lowest level misdemeanor offender, I don’t believe the B.O.P. is going to give me clearance. Somewhere, somebody in the Federal government has decreed that Fr. Frank is going to do his whole sentence locked up behind bars. It doesn’t matter much, because I’m beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Four months down, two to go.
P.S. Just got notice from the B.O.P. my request for work release was denied. No surprise.