Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion

INTRODUCING FR. FREDDIE'S GOSPEL REFLECTIONS

for Multi-purpose

1. These reflections are not written like an essay, but in six precise steps. Choose what you like.

2. They are not meant only for preaching homilies, but for a multi-purpose: for teaching, prayer (either personal or common), reflections and socio-pastoral guidance.

3. They can be used outside the liturgical celebrations also on any other occasions for preaching (by using the same text), private and common prayers, Bible Vigil, Adoration, Prayer Service, Gospel Sharing, conferences, talks, etc.

4. Only the Gospel text prescribed for the Sunday Liturgy in the Catholic Church is used for these reflections, and not the First and Second Readings. The latter are quoted only for reference. Those who want to include them, have to find their own applications.

5. These reflections are written from a pastoral and spiritual perspective, and not from academic or exegetical.

6. The preachers have an option to develop only the focus-statements given in Step 2 on their own into a full-fledged homily. If they want to make their homily shorter, they need not include all the points/thoughts written by the author; instead can select what they like, and (if they want) add their own stories/ anecdotes/ examples.

7. The title, “Gospel Reflections for Life-Promotion” indicates the author’s intention to highlight the life-sustaining or life-saving issues in our world and society in the midst of anti-life forces.

8. Though much of the material presented in these reflections is author's, no claim is made for the originality of all the thoughts and ideas. They are adopted from various authors.

9. Reproduction of these reflections in any form needs prior permission.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

25th Sunday of Year A

Twenty-fifth Sunday of Year A [Mt 20:1-16]
24 September 2017
The Parable of Labourers in the Vineyard
Readings: (1) Is 55:6-9 (2) Phil 1:20-24.27
1.  Theme in brief
 God’s generosity goes  beyond justice
2.  Focus Statement  
God’s generosity, goodness and mercy towards us are unmeritorious; they go beyond strict justice and what we actually deserve.
3. Explanation of the text
In the Parable of Labourers in the Vineyard, Jesus emphasizes that our vocation as well as salvation are gratuitous or free gifts from God, and have nothing to do with our merits. He sharply focuses on the generosity and goodness of God, or his gracious love for those who may not deserve it but are in need of it. In other words, God’s goodness and mercy towards us are unmeritorious. They not only go beyond what we deserve, but also beyond justice.
Originally, Jesus might have given this parable in answer to the objection raised by the scribes and Pharisees: Instead of associating only with the respectable people in Jewish society (who are compared to the first-comers), he mixes freely with sinners and outcasts (who are compared to the late-comers in the vineyard). But Matthew seems to apply this parable to Jewish Christians in his Church whom he considers as first-comers and Gentile Christians as late-comers. Rightly projecting the mind of Jesus, Matthew insists that those Christians who got converted from the chosen race (Israel) have no reason to feel superior to pagan converts; both enjoy the same status in the Church.
Just like the employer of this parable who gives equal wages to those who work for the whole day and those who come at the eleventh hour (one hour before closing) out of his generosity and compassion for the unemployed (20:8-9), God too does the same through his Son (Jesus). He gives tax-collectors and prostitutes who repent equal rank with the righteous in his Kingdom. This extraordinary generosity of the employer is emphasized very much by insisting that he goes in search of labourers at five different hours of the day: first early in the morning, then at 9 o’clock, at noontime, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon and at five o’clock in the evening – called the eleventh hour as per Jewish timing (20:1-6).
This employer’s arbitrary generosity shocks the early labourers, and the manner of his payment looks unusual. Nobody pays full wages to the eleventh-hour workers in the presence of early comers. In fact his conduct goes against all fair dealing. The employer holds on to his principle that he has done no injustice to the early labourers. Though some commentators have noted that those who are standing idle in the marketplace are lazy, it seems their idleness is not because of their laziness, but because nobody has employed them (20:7). In fact, he has done full justice in paying the agreed wage to the first-comers (20:13); hence they have no right to complain. With them he is just, whereas with others he is generous. It is up to him if he wants to be more generous to others. Does he not have the right to do what he chooses to do with what belongs to him (20:15)? Here he uses the standard of grace to deal with the week, instead of merit. The point is clear that God’s grace goes beyond human merits.
In Jesus’ days, the early labourers, who are shown as complainers or grumblers, were no other than the scribes and Pharisees who thought that God rewards strictly according to the merits they gained by meticulous observance of the Law of Moses. Here they are shown to be resentful at the generosity of the employer and envious of the late-comers. They may be thinking, since the late-comers do not deserve that much pay, it should be taken away from them. The extraordinary goodness of the employer pricks their eyes. In Greek language Matthew puts it this way: “Is your eye evil because I am good” (20:15)? The NSRV version of the Bible puts it this way: “Are you envious because I am generous?” Instead of rejoicing at the fortunes of others, they become so envious.
4.  Application to life                     
The details of this parable are not meant for literal imitation in labour relations, business and administration of institutions. That will be absurd. Nobody hires labourers to work in one’s field or garden one hour before the working hours end. First of all, this parable invites us to reflect deeply on God’s generosity towards the undeserving. Here Jesus presents before us the picture of a God who loves not only the so-called respectable and pious people, but also late-comers, back-benchers, the undeserving, the underdogs, the unloved and the uncared for. He is a God whose mercy or compassion goes beyond human merits. God is so generous that he goes after those who are left out or those who are not in the main stream, and not doing any useful work for the society (i.e. “standing idle in the marketplace”). When we reflect on our own call to Christian discipleship, or married state, or to religious life/priesthood, we realize that it is an act of God’s benevolence and mercy. Did we deserve to be called? Or let us think of all the things, gifts and blessings which we consider very personal. Do we deserve them? Are they not from God’s free bounty? When we work for God’s Kingdom, we should not always hanker for rewards. In imitation of a little bit of God’s own generosity, there must be some moments in our life when we work for God’s Kingdom out of our generosity even if we are not rewarded for it in terms of applause, appreciation, promotion, money or gifts.
God is still going to marketplaces continually inviting those who are too selfish to use their time and energies for the service of society, or those who do nothing even if they see so much suffering and so many needs in front of them, and those who do not make use of the opportunities available to them. He tells them: ‘‘You also go into the vineyard” (20:4, 7). He uses the same words to the lay people in the Church to ensure their participation or involvement in the mission of Christ, instead of considering it as the monopoly of the clergy and the religious. But who will sacrifice time and energy? This parable has a message for religious leaders and pastors of the Church also: “Do you actively promote participation and empowerment of the laity in the Church? Do you go to ‘marketplaces’ and tell them, ‘Why are you sitting idle? You also come and work in the Lord’s vineyard.”
We must recognize the fact that just as God is generous with us, he is generous with others too. As we are happy with his generosity with us, we should be happy when he is generous with others too. Then where is the room for becoming envious? Instead of becoming envious of others’ gifts, talents, blessings, goodness and possessions we should imitate God’s generosity towards others. In other words, we are invited to rejoice over God’s mercy towards the undeserving, instead of becoming envious of it. Unless we do this, envy and greed will not go, and if these things do not go, real peace will not come on earth. God gives equal reward to the ‘old’ Christians and the ‘new’ Christians, to life-long virtuous people and life-long sinners who repent just at death-bed. Instead of becoming envious of God’s generosity, it is high time to imitate it.
Actually, the early labourers were not complaining about the amount of money paid to them; instead about the same amount paid to late-comers. Envious people think like this: “Not only what others possess should be ours, but also others should not possess at all what they have.” Therefore they want to take away what others have, and if that is not possible, they want to spoil or destroy it, especially by spreading rumours and gossiping about them. Actually envy goes beyond hatred for one’s opponents. When we hate others we try to destroy what we find as evil in them; but when we envy, we destroy what is good in others precisely because it pricks in our eyes. This is exactly what the employer says in this parable: “Are you envious because I am generous” (20:15)? That means we wish that God should be generous only with us and not with others. When envy reaches its heights, people perpetually compare what others have with what they do not – a big bungalow, latest brand of motor vehicle, fancy garments, high level friends, higher posts, better payment, etc. They themselves do not lift a finger to render a service to the society or the Church, but are envious of those who do a good service. Envy might dictate its terms even to the religious and the clergy. It might prompt them to grumble like this: “Unworthy and unqualified people are given higher posts in the Church or religious congregation, and I, though better qualified, am not considered.” What they actually want is to sit on somebody else’s chair or seat, which they think should have been theirs.
Further, this parable teaches us that justice alone, though an important requirement to be a citizen of the society of God’s love (that is, the Kingdom of God), is not enough. God’s love goes beyond justice; so should our love go, at least occasionally. Sometimes pious and respectable Christians may grumble if the parish or its leaders spend more time and money to uplift the poor and the underprivileged. The same thing may happen when the Church or parish goes out to serve people of other faiths. These respectable Christians may grumble or complain saying that non-Christians do not support the Church in words, deeds and through financial contributions; hence they do not deserve the Church’s services or aid. In some local Churches we observe tensions between old and new Christians, high caste/class and low caste/class Christians, practising Christians and non-practising ones (whom they call ‘nominal’ Christians), local Christians and late settlers or migrants (whom they call ‘outsiders’). The former ones feel superior to the latter ones and expect a better treatment, more privileges and special honour. Sometimes those who donate a lot of money to the Church or for its charitable projects or for construction of churches and chapels expect that they should get first class treatment. If God himself has no favourites, why should we expect a ‘most favoured’ status?
5.   Response to God's Word
In imitation of a little bit of God’s own generosity, do we sometimes render services out of our generosity even if we are not rewarded for it in terms of applause, appreciation, promotion, money or gifts? How do we respond to God’s call: ‘‘You also go into my vineyard?” Are we envious of others’ gifts, talents, blessings and possessions? Do we engage in spreading rumours and gossiping against those whom we envy? Do we hanker for a special treatment and expect a ‘most favoured’ status in the Church or our community because of our position or contributions? Do we present ourselves before others as regular grumblers and complainers about the better privileges and positions of others?
6.   A prayer

We praise you Lord for your generosity towards the undeserving. Your mercy or compassion goes beyond human merits. You are so generous that you go after those who are left out and are not in the main stream of life. Grant that we may imitate your infinite generosity by serving occasionally without seeking for any reward and overcome with your grace our feelings of envy about the goodness or fortunes of others. Amen.

Friday, 15 September 2017

24th Sunday of Year A

Twenty-fourth Sunday of Year A [Mt 18:21-35]
17 September 2017
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
Readings: (1) Sir 27:30-28:7 (2) Rom 14:7-9
1.  Theme in brief
        Forgiving others as God has forgiven us
2.   Focus Statement  
Our experience of receiving God’s forgiveness for our greater sins imposes an obligation on us to forgive the smaller offences of our brothers and sisters.
3.   Explanation of the text
Today’s gospel deals with the most difficult issue of forgiving those who sin against us or offend us. It begins with the question asked by Peter to Jesus: How often should he forgive anybody who sins against him?  He answered his own question by suggesting that forgiving an offender seven times could be the most generous limit (18:21), because Jewish Rabbis taught that maximum number of forgiveness granted to an offender must be three times.  Peter must have been astonished when Jesus said: “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” (18:22). By saying that the disciples must forgive their offenders seventy times seven, Jesus does not mean 490 times, but teaches that Christian forgiveness has no limits and no conditions (18:21-22).
Through the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (18:23-35), Jesus teaches that the experience of receiving God’s forgiveness for their serious sins imposes an obligation on his disciples to forgive the smaller offences of others. Since God forgives sinners unconditionally as often as they repent, his disciples too must forgive others unconditionally (18:35). Hence, our forgiveness is linked to God’s forgiveness of our manifold sins and offences. In this parable, though the first debtor of a huge debt was willing to pay it later on and asked the king to be patient till he collected the amount (18:26), the king forgave the debt on the spot out of pity or compassion for him (18:27), and not because he deserved it. Readiness to forgive those who have offended us is proposed by Jesus as a primary requirement of Christian life. How can a person who refuses to forgive others expect to be forgiven by God? Those who refuse to forgive their offenders do not deserve to be forgiven by God (18:32-35).
Why should we forgive? In this parable Jesus must have purposely exaggerated the amount of debt owed by the first debtor in order to emphasize the great contrast between the two debts. The first one owed his master ten thousand talents. One talent was equal to fifteen years of wages. So the amount is incredible. The second one owed only a hundred denarii. One denarius was equal to only one day’s wage for a labourer. The story depicts the great contrast between the patient, compassionate and forgiving king and the unforgiving, rude and throttling servant. The point is that the offences we are called to forgive are so trifle compared to the amount of sins God forgives us.
4. Application to life                     
Human relationships do get strained and broken at times. For anybody forgiveness is very difficult and does not come automatically. Even a child when asked to apologize for doing something wrong, does not do it easily. For us adults, not only asking for forgiveness is hard but also granting forgiveness to those who have hurt us deeply becomes very hard.
According to today’s gospel text, Peter thought that only his brother or sister would sin against him, but did not think of the possibility of him sinning against his brother or sister. He asked Jesus about the limit of forgiveness. Peter thought he was showing a great generosity when he proposed forgiving an offender seven times, whereas Jewish rabbis advocated only three times. Jesus wants that we should avoid all mathematical calculations while granting pardon to others. We have a tendency to count mentally (in imagination) how many times so and so has behaved in a nasty way with me; how many times spoken ill of me or spoiled my me; how may times cheated me;  how many times quarrelled or fought with me ……….. Today, Jesus exhorts us to stop becoming very calculative in our loving relationships with our brothers and sisters. Jesus tells us where there is genuine love, there is no limit for forgiveness (Eph. 3:17–19).
For a Christian disciple, forgiveness is not optional. Jesus tells us, unless we forgive our brothers and sisters from the heart, we shall not be forgiven by God (Mt 6:14-15; 18:35). This should not be taken literally, as if God has conditions for loving or forgiving us. What this text means is, if we are God’s children we should exhibit God’s own forgiving nature out of compassion for sinners.  Otherwise we do not deserve to be called his children. In other words, forgiveness is a requirement to qualify ourselves as his children. Just like a person who applies for a job needs to have proper qualification to get that job, so also a Christian disciple should have the qualification to become a member of God’s Kingdom. Otherwise, he/she forfeits the dignity of being called a child of God. In other words, though God’s mercy and pardon is always available to us, we become truly worthy of receiving it when we are willing to forgive the faults and hurts caused by others. Since we have been first forgiven by God, his love and grace encourages and impels us to forgive others in turn.
Refusal to forgive those who have offended us blocks our relationship with God. Our forgiveness of offenders is based on the fact that we ourselves are the beneficiaries of God’s forgiveness. When we cannot forgive the hurts inflicted on us by the rude words and behaviour of our brothers and sisters, it is necessary to think of the number of times God has forgiven our greater sins, instead of concentrating on the manner in which they have hurt us. We have to share God’s own forgiveness with others in a generous way. Otherwise, how can we become worthy of receiving God’s forgiveness? If we have lost the prerequisite to be called God’s children by refusing to forgive, do we deserve to be forgiven? By refusing to forgive, we want to show our hold over our opponents or offenders. In the mean time we become prisoners of hatred.
Forgiveness should be from the heart and not superficial or conditional. Sometimes we place ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ before we forgive. Often breakage and estrangement of human relationships due to anger, infighting, nursing of revenge and hatred becomes a poison that kills peace in our hearts, families and communities. Those who are bitter and refuse to forgive are sick; they must be seeking love and attention for themselves. An unforgiving heart is the worst prison. By not forgiving the sins and offences of our brothers and sisters we imprison ourselves and go on punishing them in our minds. By doing so, we punish ourselves. By our unforgiving attitude, we confine ourselves to the prison of hatred, revenge, and bitterness which will have a negative repercussion on our physical, mental and spiritual health. Forgiveness frees both: us and the one who accepts pardon. We need to be free from this bondage for our own good. It is a healing experience, since it washes away the poison of bitterness and ill-feelings towards a person. There is an old saying that harbouring bitterness against our offender is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Are we willing to break this wall of hatred and division by reconciliation? In forgiveness, we do not have to count the number of times we have forgiven others, but think of God whose forgiveness, we received every time we repented, and shall continue to receive.
Forgiveness does not come to us naturally, since our human nature always revolts against any injury done by an outside force. But this is the only way to mend broken relationships, personal hurts and regain or re-create the lost love. When we are hurt deeply, feelings against such persons are very intense. Therefore, forgiveness is not a feeling, but a decision to be made in our mind. It is choosing to love or choosing to show mercy to an offender. We need to ask ourselves whether we live by feelings or live by choice. What is humanly impossible can become possible with a lot of prayer and God’s supernatural grace. To generate feelings of compassion towards the wrongdoers when injury inflicted on us is very deep, it may take a longer period of time and struggle.
Our offer of unconditional pardon to our offenders does not mean that we agree with their offences or wrongdoings. It does not mean what they did or are doing is alright. Our forgiveness does not absolve the offenders from their sins. Instead, we hope that the mercy shown to them may gradually lead them to repentance and a change of heart.
5.  Response to God's Word
Who are our personal, caste or class and national enemies? Do we take steps to forgive them? Do we nurse bitterness against them? Within our families and communities, are we often concerned about punishing our offenders and enemies? Instead of planning retaliation, do we plan how to forgive them? Do put conditions to grant forgiveness to those who have offended or hurt us?  Do we fix a limit to our forgiveness? Do we become calculative in forgiving others? . Are we willing to break the wall of hatred and division by forgiveness and reconciliation?
6.   A prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.

Friday, 8 September 2017

23rd Sunday of Year A

Twenty-third Sunday of Year A [Mt 18:15-20]
10 September 2017
Reproving Another Who Sins
Readings: (1) Ez 33:7-9 (2) Rom 13:8-10
1. Theme in brief
Fraternal corrections within the Church
2.  Focus Statement  
We have a responsibility to bring back our erring brothers and sisters to the fold; but love and reform should be the sole motive for doing it, and not revenge or jealousy.
3.  Explanation of the text
Today’s gospel speaks about the attitude and concern of Christians towards their community members who have sinned against them. In the Church, all the members have responsibility to correct wrongdoers, even if their offence is not personally against them. Those who are offended have the responsibility to take the initiative to correct the brother or sister who has offended them.  Jesus gives a three-stage approach to ‘regain’ (technically means to convert, 18:15) an erring member in the Christian community. At each stage the only motive of correcting the errant members should be fraternal love and concern for their and the community’s good or to win them back to the community, and not revenge or retaliation. This fraternal correction is meant to win the offender back instead of driving him/her farther away. It is like a shepherd going out in search of the sheep which has gone astray.
The first stage consists of pointing out the fault of the erring brother or sister privately when nobody else is present (18:15); the second stage consists of pointing it out with the help of two or three witnesses, since according to the OT (Deut 19:15) a charge is sustained only with the evidence of two or three witnesses (18:16); and the third stage consists of reporting the matter to the Church or community only when he/she refuses to listen even to the witnesses (18:17).
If a member refuses to listen to the Church also, he/she should be treated as Israelites would treat a Gentile and tax-collector (18:17). Since both these groups were excluded from the mainstream of Judaism, the implication is that such offenders should be excluded or excommunicated from the community. This type of drastic step is to be taken only in serious matters when the welfare of the whole community is at stake, and when first two steps become fruitless.   
This power to exclude the hardhearted sinners from the community also has the aim of bringing them back to the fold when they feel the pinch. This disciplinary action is one of the aspects of the power of binding and loosing – a power given only to Peter earlier (16:19) is now given to the whole Church or community (18:18). The expressions “binding” and “loosing” could mean the authority to declare what is forbidden and what is permitted. Jesus promises his disciples that God himself will stand behind their decisions on grave matters. In other words, the decisions of the community are equated with the judgement of God.
Further, Jesus promises to be with the community where ever two or three of them gather in his name for prayer or for decision-making, such as bringing back those members who sin against them (18:20).
4.  Application to life                     
We notice in our modern world there is a tendency to emphasize more individual rights and freedom than collective responsibility for human society or community. Whenever there are personal or group conflicts, people prefer to walk away or break off from relationships and mutual bonds so quickly rather than trying for reconciliation through dialogue. In contrast to this mentality, in today’s gospel Jesus advocates the principle of our collective responsibility to bring back the erring members of our community. If one of our brothers or sisters goes astray, it is our duty to bring him/her back into the fold. Today’s gospel implies that in our Christian community each one of us is responsible for the reform and spiritual welfare of our ‘fallen’ brothers and sisters through fraternal corrections. But with what motive or intention? The text implies that love and concern for their reform should be the only motive for fraternal corrections and not revenge or jealousy. Our community member’s going astray should not be an occasion for revenge or to settle an old score. When we make excuse for our faults by saying, “To err is human,” should we not say the same thing to others’ faults?
Today’s gospel motivates us to examine how serious are we  about our responsibility to correct those who have gone astray in our families/ neighbourhood/ religious communities/ the Church, and be concerned about their spiritual welfare and growth. As Christians, we are not just members of a club or an organization, but brothers and sisters in Christ. If we value our mutual relationship within our community very highly, we should be concerned about bringing back those whom we think are guilty of an offence or sin. Therefore, in Christian families, parents have a responsibility to correct their children when they do something wrong. Similarly, husbands and wives also have the same responsibility towards one another. Priests and the religious are called to feel responsible for the reform of their fellow priests or members of their religious communities, especially of those members who have drifted away from the path chosen by them. Normally, this responsibility cannot be carried out without any fraternal corrections. Instead of shouldering this responsibility, we often try to dodge it by saying: “What is there for me. I am ok. Let the wrongdoers answer to God!”
There are reasons also to think like that. This duty of fraternal correction is a very difficult and demanding task, because it has its own risks. Humanly speaking, it is very unpleasant and embarrassing to correct somebody, especially if they are our superiors or bosses. Therefore, it involves real love for those who sin against us or against our community; courage to approach them; prayer for God’s grace to do so; and personal humility from our side. Jesus lays down three-step procedure to be followed to regain our erring brothers and sisters. Out of the three steps, the first is about private correction. Why private? Our love for one another and concern for their reform or welfare should be such that we take care of protecting the good name of wrongdoers in our community. We also have a duty to protect them against public embarrassment. By private correction we prevent the matter from becoming a public knowledge. It also gives them a chance to reform. Since correcting others is difficult and risky, what many of us do normally is to gossip about them in their absence or behind their back. Sometimes, we indulge in systematic criticism of others with the intention of putting them down or teaching them a lesson. This is like punishing them in their absence and allowing them to remain in their sins and offences. This bad habit puts the offenders to public exposure and spoils their good name and dignity.
There are quite many realistic and unrealistic fears in us that prevent us from correcting the erring members of our families, neighbourhood and religious communities or clergy. Fear of displeasing, hurting, facing a hostile reaction, revenge, backlash, entering into a quarrel, straining or breakage of relationship, difficulty in working/ living together and getting cooperation or favours from the wrongdoers, etc., often prevents us from correcting others – sometimes even our own family/ religious community members and friends. Our worst fear comes sometimes from the need to correct the religious leaders and heads of religious institutions within the Church. Most often we are ‘mortally afraid’ of correcting such leaders or heads of institutions, due to the possibility of negative consequences for ourselves and others. Instead, we indulge in destructive criticism of such authorities at their backs. Due to this, sometimes the authorities remain unaware (or only partially aware) of their unacceptable behaviour and continue in it. They have no way of getting any ‘feedback’ about their bad behaviour or actions from those who are under them. In that case, how can they correct themselves? As Jesus tells us in today’s gospel, before bringing the matter to the public forum, it is necessary to go either privately or with two or three respectable persons to discuss the matter with the erring leaders. But it has to be done out of love and keeping in mind their as well as the Church’s welfare. Though there are above-mentioned risks in this, if we really love the Church or our local Christian community, such risks are to be taken as our crosses through which alone victory may emerge.
Further, today’s message cautions all of us against our judgemental attitude towards the faults and wrongdoings of others, while we ourselves remain closed to receive any correction from them. All parents, teachers, Church leaders and religious heads who correct others have this challenge before them: “Do we, who often correct others, want to be corrected by them?” Here comes the real test of their humility. Are we justified in correcting others if any of us react against those who point out our faults politely and privately, saying, “Who are you”? Poor and powerless people will have no voice to shout back at us: “Who are you?” We should not do to others what we do not like others to do to us.
It is understood that today’s gospel text is centred on the necessity of Church discipline. Jesus cautions us about the deadly consequences of allowing sins and offences unchallenged. Extreme toleration of sinful and immoral practices within the Church lowers her image and she fails in her mission to be the light of the world. By tolerating sin and allowing it to prosper we deprive the erring members a chance to repent and come back to the right path. In that case, we too contribute to their downfall or we too expose the whole community to their bad influence. If nothing is done, sins of unrepentant sinners become like untreated leprosy spreading slowly to the whole body, namely the Church. When we fully close our eyes on dangerous evil that is spreading we also compromise the Church’s witness to the world.
The next difficulty is the one experienced by many parents about correcting their young children when they go astray or commit social or moral offences. Needless to say, parents have a God-given responsibility to bring their errant children to the right path. But the question is how? The youth become very sensitive and touchy about certain issues affecting their lives. Many parents correct their grown-up children’s unacceptable behaviour by rattling some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’. There is a need to use confidence building measures before correcting the youth. Unless the parents diligently cultivate a spirit of trust or confidence between them and their grown-up children by frankly sharing with them some of the upheaval or turmoil they themselves went through in their younger days, how will the youngsters confide to them about these matters?  For this, they need to sacrifice some time to sit with them and talk to them. Once this habit is formed, the young children may listen to the guidance of their parents.
Today’s passage sheds some light also on the custom of excommunication practised in many rural as well as tribal societies in various parts of the world even after accepting Christianity. There seems to be some backing for this custom in today’s gospel. Normally it is imposed as a last resort on adamant and non-conforming members (social offenders) who refuse to admit their fault and seek reconciliation. Though the Church respects these traditional methods of social control, she is called to add some Christian elements into it: (1) Excommunication should be imposed as a ‘medicine’ (of course bitter) to make the offender realize his/her fault and repent; (2) love and reform of the offender and not revenge and extortion should be the intention, and not revenge or personal vendetta; (3) it should not be misused by the village or tribal leaders purely for selfish motives such as eating, drinking and collecting exorbitant fines; (4) it should be imposed as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted; (5) it could be time-bound with a provision to either lift it or continue it (but not beyond the death of the offender) by a common decision; and (5) some gestures of Christian forgiveness and reconciliation must be visibly offered in words and signs when the offenders repent.
5.  Response to God's Word
In the Church, are we responsible for the reform and spiritual welfare of our brothers and sisters who have gone astray or have sinned against us?  Is love and reform the only motive for our fraternal corrections or revenge and jealousy? Do we try to get a feedback of our role as leaders from others? What is our response when others point out our genuine faults and bring us to the right path? When does excommunication of offenders become ‘unchristian?’
6.  A prayer

Lord, give us the generosity to take responsibility to the spiritual welfare of one another in our community. Fill us with love and genuine concern for the reform of strayed members so that we can rejoice over their return. Amen.