Gospel Reflection for Sept. 6, 2020, 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Focusing on the Jewish character and traditions, St. Matthew occasionally utilizes legalistic language and imagery in developing his writing. With that as a backdrop, it is much easier to understand the context of the Gospel for this Sunday. Jesus is addressing basic legal instructions for the exercise of the community.

The Mosaic Law is noted for the many ways it regulates the ordinary lives of those who adhere to the laws. With centuries of commentaries and legal opinions on the application of those laws in every aspect of life, it stands as the oldest functioning law code in use today. While some of the laws, especially those governing what we would call the social contract, seem to be harsh and outdated in the contemporary Western world, those laws were remarkable for their thoroughness and the deep abiding sense of justice at their core, in the ancient world. While as Christians we are not bound to those laws, some of the underlying principles certainly influenced the development of our own Code of Canon Law, and definitely have had an impact on how we understand the principles of justice.

On the first and most practical level, Jesus, in accord with the prevailing sense of justice, teaches that disputes and disagreements ought to be worked out on a person-to-person level. At the core of this attempt at reconciliation stands a prevailing sense of the need for humility. Two people in conflict with each other need a mutual sense of humility in order to mete out reconciliation. As we know from our own life experiences, most interpersonal conflicts are not a matter of one person being right and the other being wrong. There is almost always a shared responsibility for conflict which demands that each person is humble enough to not only apologize but also to authentically and sincerely accept an apology from the other. Forgiveness, reconciliation and healing always take place in the framework of a dialogue. There must also be a mutual commitment make the change necessary in the relationship in order for it to find peace and move forward.

While we can apply these principles to all relationships – personal and professional – there is a whole other level of expectation when it comes to relational matters within the community of believers. No parish, no religious institution, is without conflict. We are persons, wounded by sin, and we sin against one another often thoughtlessly and without malice, but we sin against one another nonetheless.

While ours it a litigious society and we are quick to seek redress in legal ways, Jesus emphasizes the role of the community in mediating disputes and in bringing reconciliation. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul admonishes the Christians there for dragging their disputes before civil – hence Greco-Roman – judges thus bringing a blotch upon the Christian message and efforts at evangelization.

In the hyper-charged world of “gotcha” everything and ever-present social media platforms, we are seeing the breakdown of any sense of justice, fraternal correction and basic Christian charity. Skewed and often slanderous videos are posted every day destroying the integrity of the Church, the witness value of the bishops, and ability to evangelize a broken and sinful world. This flies completely in the face of the demands of justice we hear in the Gospel.

In areas of conflict, an appeal to the Church, based on the presence of witnesses, in the wake of stubbornness or lack of reconciliation is also in keeping with the Mosaic Law and its traditional interpretation. The Mosaic Law always demands at least two witnesses to an event, a fact which, though it remains true in Canon Law, could well be beneficial in our own civil law which holds to different standards of testimony.

Social media posts, blogs, vlogs and anonymous letters never meet these standards and do nothing fundamentally to build-up the Body of Christ.

There is always much at stake when we are in conflict one with another. Today, given the tension of the political and social climate of our country, we are best served when we seek justice over vengeance, and the truth over “being right.”

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.