In a time such as ours when we see intensified violent conflict around the world––within and between differing religious, cultural, and political perspectives––we do well to speak with each other about how we are called to respond.
The church is half-way now between Pentecost and Christ the King Sunday. We are half-way through the season called Time after Pentecost when we reflect week after week on the meaning of being the body of Christ.
It is time to reflect on the relationships we have with each other and with those who are not part of the Christian community. Such is the concern of all the readings.
Matthew’s admonitions about forthright and honest confrontation when conflict occurs is crucial to a healthy congregation. And almost nothing could be more difficult… or more avoided!
What is at stake is nothing less than the unity of the church. In light of the preceding verses, which describe a shepherd leaving ninety-nine sheep on the mountain in order to seek one lost stray, the process must be understood, not as the steps necessary for exclusion, but as steps that may lead to reconciliation. Like the shepherd seeking and finding the sheep, the Christian community must make every effort to uphold unity among its members. Because the process is realistic about the presence and power of sin at work in the lives of believers, it recognizes the need to overcome division and restore estranged brothers and sisters to their place in the family of God. At least as important as the steps in the process, however, is a spirit of love, openness, respect, and humility on the part of all involved.
– Aaron J. Couch
Healed relationships begin with admission of responsibility.
The forty-eight chapters of Ezekiel constitute two basic prophetic periods. Chapters 1-32 are often seen as messages of judgment; chapters 33-48, of hope. Ezekiel’s ministry occurred after Jerusalem was overtaken in 587 BCE.
Chapters 33-37 are, in particular, concerned with the orientation needed for a people to appropriate salvation. The prophet is to address individuals, not simply the community, and it is the response of the individual that will be attributed to the prophet’s own self. The New English Bible translation of 33:8 is helpfully clear on this score: “[I]f you do not warn him to give up his ways, the guilt is his and because of his wickedness he shall die, but I will hold you answerable for his death.”
Chapter 33 . . . begins with the image of the prophet as a sentinel, established by God to warn those in danger. . . The prophet begins the message of hope by addressing the guilt of the people. Although their guilt drains the life from them, God is able to restore life. God creates the potential for a new future for the people by inviting them to turn away from their wickedness and live. The prophet speaks for God, declaring that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. God's deep desire is for the people to turn to God and live.
– Aaron J. Couch
Hope begins with admission of guilt. No one is exempted from the need to realize ownership in situations of tension and struggle. We all play a role in the affairs of our time. The prophet announces God’s desire for all people to turn to what is life-giving.
God’s admonitions are for the sake of love, and the church has an opportunity on this Sunday to ponder the every-day expression of that life-giving impetus. Paul’s strictures return us to the Ten Commandments.
Paul appeals to Christians to live lives defined by love. Such a life accomplishes everything the law requires. Contrary to the sentimentalized and sexualized definitions of love operating in Western culture, Paul is summoning believers to a way of acting that seeks the neighbor's good. In our setting, though, where global media makes every disaster immediately visible, the call to such a life of love can seem overwhelming. It is important to note that while the neighbor could be anyone, it is not everyone. Neighbors are those whose paths one crosses, whose need may be addressed in some direct and compassionate way.
It is a matter of perspective that makes such a way of life possible. The believer understands that God has acted in Christ to create a new future for the human family. The dawn of this new day is near. The end is coming for the long, sad history of humanity defined by self-concern. The Christian knows that nothing is to be gained by giving one's energy to that old way of living that is passing away, but instead lives fully in the new identity he or she has received from Jesus Christ.
– Aaron J. Couch
Aaron J. Couch is co-pastor of First Immanuel Lutheran Church, Portland, Oregon.
Homily Service 41, no. 4 (7 Sept 200): 3-13.