September 10, 2017 — Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
EZ 33: 7-9; PS 95: 1-2, 6-9; ROM 13: 8-10; MT 18: 15-20
Most of us are familiar with the oft-quoted statement taken from today’s Gospel that says, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” The key to that passage is the phrase “in my name.” That means whether we gather to pray or to socialize or to plan or merely to meet, Jesus is among us if we try to be His disciple and live according to His character and His will. As that is the closing statement of the Gospel, the final of today’s readings, that may have the most meaning for us. Nevertheless, there is merit to all of our readings on this Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time.
The prophet Ezekiel, from whom our First Reading comes, was considered a major prophet (as were Isaiah and Jeremiah). The name Ezekiel means “God will strengthen.” The opening line in today’s reading is “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel.” We are accustomed with associating the term “Son of Man” with Jesus because that is the term He most often utilized to refer to Himself. In this instance though it is God speaking and He is addressing Ezekiel. God points out that he, Ezekiel, is “is appointed watchman for the house of Israel.”
Watchman is a term often used in the Bible, and Ezekiel in particular uses it often. In the ancient world of agrarian societies (agricultural societies) the economy, their very livelihood was based on producing and maintaining crops and farmland. Often they would construct watchtowers occupied by watchmen who guarded the fields from animals and thieves. Their role was to issue a warning if a threat occurred. This term became expanded in many ways, and it was a term applied to prophets whose role was to warn and alert people against doing wrong.
Jesus, of course, was a unique Watchman who throughout His ministry warned those around Him and us to be alert to and to guard against sin and other threats to holiness. As a result the role of a watchman became more than just issuing warnings though; it also gained the element of proclaiming the Good News. We, too, fill that role.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds us of guidance offered us by Jesus to “love your neighbor.” Doing this more or less lies at the heart of everything we do. It is at the basis of a stewardship way of life, which is the way each of us is called to live. Much has been written relating to what this means to each of us. One theologian once wrote, “We may pay our taxes and be quiet. We may give respect and honor where they are due and have no further obligation. But we can never say, ‘I have done all the loving I need to do.’ Love then is a permanent obligation, a debt impossible to discharge.” That is what Paul means when he refers to this in terms of a debt. It is a debt we all owe and one that can never be completely paid.
There is nothing complicated about it, although it may pose a challenge for us at times. It simply means to love the people you may meet or deal with on any level every day. It is not an abstract or theoretical term. It is an action term, something we must do.
As mentioned in our opening paragraph, Jesus offers some advice and comments to us in Today’s Gospel that is worth noting. The Lord’s basic premise is that we must deal with one another when we have times of disagreement. When Jesus says, “…if two of you agree on earth,” as He does just prior to stating “I am in the midst of you,” it is another case when we must look at the original Greek word on which this word “agree” is based. The Greek word is sumphoneo. Not only does it mean agree, but also it meant to symphonize. It is the basis for our word “symphony.” What a picture Jesus is painting for us!
We are intended to be a symphony, an orchestra, a group that harmonizes and seeks agreement. Jesus is not only part of our ensemble, but He is also the Director. His command is to love one another and through that love to seek to harmonize and to live our lives in emulation of Christ. Earth can never be Heaven, but the Lord certainly offers us ways that we can be holy and make life here more heavenly.