September 7, 2008, Year A
Twenty-Third Sunday In Ordinary Time
Reflections on the Readings
Theme: House of Reconciliation
We need Jesus and each other.
In America the idea of individual effort and sacrifice is prized. Some forms of evangelism stress individualism by promoting the idea that Christianity is just Jesus and Me! However, this is an anemic understanding of Christ and His Church and is a foreign definition of the fellowship of the Church. While we will all agree that a personal relationship with Jesus is vital, Scripture speaks of that relationship within the context of a body connected to the head, who is Christ; a body that is joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied. We are joined and knit together, and as such comprise the Church. (See Ephesians 4:16)
This understanding of the Church is indispensable. An attitude that it's just Jesus and Me did not exist anywhere in the development of the Church. St. Paul unpacks today's Gospel and underscores the Church as community and structure like this: So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows, into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22)
In Matthew 16:18 Peter is appointed by Jesus to be the visible head of the universal Church. This visible headship has continued for two millennia and currently is seen in the ministry of Pope Benedict XVI. His authority under Christ is extended to all the Apostles or Bishops in the ministry of the local Church throughout the world who are in communion with the Pope. Today's Gospel highlights this. The Christian life is lived within the fellowship of all the faithful who are guided and guarded as the flock of God by the faithful Bishops and their Priests within the Diocese.
Reconciliation is the ministry of the Church. The presence and power of the Lord is among us because whenever two or three are gathered in His name, He is in our midst. It is within this reality that forgiveness and reconciliation is preached and practiced. So necessary is this to our faith and relationship to Jesus, that if any fault or sin or issue divides us, we are to seek out our brother and regain his fellowship and trust. If necessary, this can be brought before witnesses or ultimately to the those who are over us in the Lord, and whatever they bind or loose on earth is bound and loosed in heaven. The unity of the faith is the cherished and guarded jewel of the house of reconciliation.
There is a lone ranger mentality often associated with some in their walk with Jesus. Even though Pope Benedict's papacy is emphasizing a personal and devoted relationship with Jesus, it is understood as a faith within community. The Church today is still the Church of Acts 2:42 where we see the early faithful devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers. Those who go it alone, forsaking the coming together of the household of faith, are not present to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. The hand and the foot are absolutely necessary to the healthy function of a healthy body. St. Paul stressed to the individualistic Corinthians the body does not consist of one member but many; If all were a single organ where would the body be? As it is there are many parts, yet one body. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (See 1 Corinthians 12) Your redeemed and transformed humanity is a particular charism within the body!
The God who through Christ has reconciled us to himself has given the ministry of reconciliation to the Church which is His body. The message of reconciliation is in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. We cannot hold grudges, animosities, disdain or rebellion in our hearts against another and remain unimpaired in our personal life in Christ.
As I look upon the crucifix, he who knew no sin, became sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Is the life I'm living, things I'm doing, what I watch and read worthy of the man I see on that old rugged cross? Is what I let separate me from the love of God and the love of His Church worthy of the Lamb of God on that cross? Many accuse Catholics of believing that Jesus is still immolated on a cross because of the crucifix in their parishes or homes. I would only make this observation: St. Paul preached Christ crucified, which was a stumbling block to the Jews and a folly to the Gentiles. He said the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. The message of the cross and of the crucifix is the message of reconciliation.
Within the house of reconciliation the whole world stands on level ground at the foot of the cross. Let us be reconciled to God and to one another.
Let us pray: Dear Jesus, help me to remember that eternal life binds me to my brother and sister. Truly our fellowship is with one another and with the Father through the Son of His love. Amen.