Purifying our flaws

The journey of repentance involves a gradual process of self-denial, without which we can be so sure of our own selves while persisting in error.

Sep 08, 2023

Reflecting on our Sunday Readings with Br Joseph Wong Pak Yii

23rd Sunday of
Ordinary Time (A)
Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9;
Romans 13:8-10;
Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

“For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.” (Ecclesiastes 4:10) The Gospel today speaks about companionship, specifically during the time when tension arises when one side falls short of the glory of God.

Instead of looking from the perspective of the righteous one, we will start by looking at it from the other perspective as there are instances when we too have fallen into sin.

Acknowledgement of our own sinfulness, followed by repentance, are part of the integral act of faith. By doing so, we believe that we need a Saviour and salvation requires our response to the call of repentance. If you notice, both the Gospel as well as the first reading today mentions a companion that helps to point out one’s own error. In fact, the latter goes further to stress that without which, that companion would be held accountable when another falls into sin.

So, just as sin has a social dimension, repentance too involves social motivation. Therefore, Christianity is not a facile religion between my personal Saviour and me. In fact, as Christians, we are intricately one as the body of Christ that “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)

However, at times, we find it hard to accept when someone corrects our faulty choices and behaviour, primarily because it hurts our ego. Of course, many times the person does it out of good intention — to pull us back from straying further away. However, there are other times when people do it in an uncharitable way, despite the good intention. A lot of times, these criticisms put us off since they may sound harsh, personal or sarcastic. Therefore, while fraternal correction is crucial, it is never an easy task because it requires prudence for it to result in goodness instead of harm.

In other words, it is our duty to reprimand someone when s/he strays from the right path, but it is never our right to be rude while doing so for “a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).

Also, “let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29) If you notice, the method mentioned by Jesus involves a gradual process to win the sinner back, sparing him public shame initially and providing the chance for repentance. So, fraternal correction should always be motivated by charity and only charity because “love does no wrong to a neighbour” (Romans 13:10), as mentioned in the second reading today.

The journey of repentance involves a gradual process of self-denial, without which we can be so sure of our own selves while persisting in error. That explains why sometimes the witnesses of a few, and not even of a whole community, can help to open our eyes to realise our own errors.

Humility is the price to pay to chip off that pride which clings so easily to our own ego. It is through frequent self-examinations, with the aid of God’s grace, that one slowly peels off the sphacelus of pride to expose the fresh wound underneath for it to heal. That ‘debridement’ of pride may be an arduous process, but it is necessary for purifying the flaw in us.

At the end, after all the attempts in trying to bring back a fallen brother have failed, it is mentioned that we should treat him as a Gentile or a tax collector. The literal way to understand this is to have nothing to do with such an unrepentant sinner lest one may follow suit, as “bad company ruins good morals.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) So, unrepentance may be the limit for companionship.

Nevertheless, some may think that Jesus had fondness and tended to always associate with Gentiles and tax collectors. The very reason for that was because Jesus intended to call them for repentance. He was neither being politically correct by being oblivious or assenting to the way of life of the wayward heart, nor compromising His standards. In fact, He came to transform their hardened hearts with love. That was why He reminded the prostitute to go and sin no more after forgiving her. (John 8:11) On another occasion, He warned the man healed by Him to sin no more, so that nothing worse may happen to him (John 5:14).

Christ has the power to bring about conversion of hearts. So, while we may choose to cut off the association with unrepentant sinners, we ought to pray earnestly and do penance for their conversion as a community of Church since “if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19) Though it may be unavailing from our part, nothing is impossible for God!

(Bro Joseph Wong Pak Yii is a second year Theology student at St Peter’s College Major Seminary in Kuching.)

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