23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 10, 2017

(Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20)

        When Ezekiel uses the expression “son of man,” it is different wording than when it was used in Daniel 7:13. Here it is literally, “son of Adam” (in Hebrew ben adam), which is often translated as “O mortal.” Ezekiel uses this expression ninety-nine times in this book, where it simply means human being. Emphasizing the prophet’s mortality exalts the position of the Lord as God. God is the one who speaks to Ezekiel, not the other way around. Thus what Ezekiel speaks is the message of God, not his own.

        In Sunday’s reading the prophets are regarded as “watchmen for the house of Israel.” A watchman’s job is to warn people of danger and where it is coming from. Now the prophet is told that if he does not do his job, by warning Israel, then he (Ezekiel) will be liable for the deaths of those who were not warned. If he warns them and they continue to sin and then die because of the sins, the prophet will be saved.

        This is chosen to accompany the Gospel, in which Jesus instructs the disciples about fraternal correction. This passage is wedged between the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The last sentence of the Parable of the Lost Sheep is the lead-in to this instruction. It actually connects it to what follows: “It is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost.”

        The effort to win back “your brother (who) sins against you” requires first, a one on one discussion with the one who has sinned. If it cannot be resolved on that level, then take along one or two others, “so that every fact can be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Those witnesses are there to help the sinner see the error of his sin, not because they witnessed the sin.  Passing along what one hears on social media, is not the same as bringing along one or two others as witness. If the brother does not listen to the others, then “tell the church.” Every effort is made to convince the sinner to turn from his sin. Only then shall he be treated “like as a Gentile or a tax collector,” which means to be cast out of the community. Here, the authority of binding or loosing, first given to Peter in Mt.16:16, is now given to the disciples. It is the power to make authoritative and binding decisions.

This is the only other place in the Gospels besides Matthew 16:18 where the word “church” occurs. In 16:18, Jesus said to Peter “on this rock I will build my church.” The Greek word ekklesia means “those who are called out,” and gradually came to be used for the whole church community, gathered with and in Christ. We recognize the English word “ecclesiastical” which means “having to do with the church.” Its use here in chapter 18 means the local community, as in the churches Paul established in various places.

It is similar to the word synagogue which is often found in the Gospels and elsewhere in the New Testament. The synagogue was a “place of assembly” or a “gathering place.” After the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, the synagogue remained a key part of Judaism. Christians began to frame their own structure in ways similar to the synagogue, as a place to celebrate the presence of Christ and to find those Old Testament texts which pointed to the Messiah. In time “church” replaced synagogue, likely because synagogue was so closely associated with Jews and Judaism. The times were not very ecumenical.

Fr. Lawrence L. Hummer     hummerl@stmarychillicothe.com