23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

As we celebrate Labor Day this weekend and officially bring the summer to a close, we find ourselves in the scriptures in part three of a four-part series in Matthew’s gospel, where Jesus teaches us how to be a Christina. If you remember two weeks ago we heard Matthew’s account of Jesus asking His disciples, “who do you say that I am”[1] Of course, Peter responded, “you are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[2] Two weeks ago, we were asked to sit back and answer that question for ourselves. Who do we say that Jesus is? Hopefully all of us have come to a point on our faith journey, where we can with St. Peter truly profess that Jesus is the Son of God.

But it’s not enough just to profess Jesus as God. So last week, you heard Jesus teach us that we must pick up our cross and follow Him.[3] If we really believe that Jesus is the Son of God, then the only logical choice for us is to follow Him wherever He leads. Then in today’s gospel that one doesn’t become a Christian alone. That our relationship with God is not just about us and God, but rather that we are called to love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.

So, the Christian journey, by definition requires a community. Three steps to following Christ. First come to faith, come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Second, pick up our cross and follow Him wherever He leads. Step three, follow after Jesus in the midst of the community, in the midst of our Catholic faith.

Living our faith in the midst of a community is not always easy. Sometimes community is easy and we need the community to fall back on, but if you live in a family you know that there are blessings that come with families and there are difficulties that come with families. Jesus is very clear, that not only are we called to live in this community of the Church, but when one of our brothers or sisters go astray, we have the difficult task if calling them back, of showing them their error.

You see, St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that the whole Christian life can be summarized by this commandment of love. Love God above all things and then love our neighbor as ourselves. There are many different definitions of love out there, but the best definition of love I have ever found is if you love someone you want what is best for them. To love someone, is to will the best for them for their own sake or own good. As Catholics, we know that what is best for us and what is best for our neighbor is that at the end of time we are all gathered together in the kingdom of heaven. Thus, the best thing we can want as Christians and the best thing we can desire for those that we love is that they become a saint.

Yet, none of us are perfect. Which is why in today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that if we want to help get our brothers and sisters to the kingdom of heaven, we cannot be afraid to warn them when they go astray. The prophet Ezekiel was very clear in today’s first reading. He told us “if you do not speak to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”[4] The warning of the prophet is clear, we will be held accountable if we fail to call to task a brother or sister who has fallen, who has fallen into sin. There are times, we must admonish the sinner because their eternal life is at stake.

When we hear that at first, it makes us feel a little uneasy, because we live in a country that is all about tolerance. But if you baby brother was playing in the street, I guarantee you would do everything you could to warn him of the dangers of playing in the busy intersection. If you knew a loved one was about to make a really stupid financial decision, I guarantee you would do what you could of the pitfalls that lay ahead. If we are willing to do that in our human life, why wouldn’t we do that in our spiritual life? If we are willing to help people preserve their life in this world, why wouldn’t we speak up and help them preserve their life for eternal life.

You see, in this call to actually love our neighbor, we have to have a great compassion and concern for the salvation of others. It is not easy and it needs to be done in a proper spirit, recognizing that when we call someone to correction it is one sinner speaking to another sinner. None of us have it all figured out. While necessary, it isn’t easy because no one likes to have their faults pointed out.

Sadly, in society today, it seems like sin doesn’t even exist. We live in a culture that cries for the necessity of tolerance. As a matter of fact, it seems that the only sin the in the world today is to be intolerant of someone’s choices. Yet that doesn’t make sense. We don’t tolerate things we agree on. We don’t tolerate a sunny day or tolerate my friends who believe the same thing I do. No, we tolerate disagreements. We tolerate the right for someone else to express their own opinion. While our world tells us if we truly love another, we have to be accepting of whatever they do. But nothing could be further from the truth. If we love them, we want what is best for them, which means there will be times where we can’t accept something they have chosen.

My friends, we can’t confuse tolerance for love. There is a major difference. We understand that true love desires the best for the other person and if that means calling out the sinful actions of a loved one then love demands that we do so charitably and with patience while offering to help them in any way that we can. As Christians we are called to leave no one behind on the path to salvation.

As the summer winds down and we move into the fall, Jesus is giving us a nice refresher on what it means to be a Christian, the steps to actually living out our faith. Two weeks ago it was the call to profess our faith, last week it was the call to follow Him and today it is the reminder that we practice our faith not alone, faith isn’t about just us and God, but in the context of a community, loving and supporting one another no matter what that requires, even if it requires the challenging part of calling others to conversion.

[1] Mt 16:15

[2] Mt 16:16

[3] Mt 16:24

[4] Ez 33:8

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