To conquer sin, look to the divine model’s ‘web of relationships’

Shawn Reeves

By Shawn Reeves

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time/Sept. 10

Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,8-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

We thrive on relationship. There is not a person alive who does not desire on some level a fulfilling relationship with another. Because we believe in a God who is Trinity, we consequently believe in a God who exists eternally within relationship.

Within the Oneness of their common being, never has there been a time in which Father, Son, and Spirit were not in perpetual relationship with one another. And so every way God manifests Himself has the stamp of relationship marked upon it. “The world,” as Pope Francis wrote in “Laudato Si’,” “created according to the divine model, is a web of relationships.” (n. 240)

So when God ushers declarations upon humanity, He seems to prefer the instrument of relationships. He does not merely speak directly and secretly to each heart. Instead, He enlists us and associates us in a sharing of that speech. Ezekiel does not warn the people for his own benefit, but God declares, “You shall warn them for me.”

THERE’S STILL TIME

God, who needs no assistance, desires to entrust a sharing of His own relationship with the people to Ezekiel, as His “watchman” over that relationship. He is deputized to act on God’s behalf within that relationship. But, first he must be equipped by his own relationship with God, acting only “when you hear me say anything,” God instructs. Ezekiel’s relationship with God must be fortified by an attentive, listening heart, because this kind of heart alone understands what to do with the words given it.

Sin divides and distracts. Sin dissolves and damages relationships. But love reconciles. Love fulfills the law, because love is freedom.

Ezekiel’s relationship with God spills over into God’s relationship with His people, and Ezekiel becomes caught up into God’s relationship with them by divine invitation. God chooses to rehabilitate one relationship through another relationship.

Nearly 100 times, God refers to Ezekiel as “Son of Man,” and Jesus almost exclusively refers to Himself with the same title, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. So when Jesus, the supreme “watchman,” utters his moral edicts in today’s Gospel, it is not hard to hear an echo of Ezekiel. Jesus has heard the Father say these things, and He warns the people for Him.

But a warning does not imply finality but the reality that there is still time to correct behavior, still time to rehabilitate a relationship. Both Ezekiel and Jesus announce that there are good ways to rehabilitate relationship with God and others, and there are ways to squander those opportunities.

LOVE IS THE KEY

Jesus emphasizes three restorative relationships woven together: relationship between human persons (“if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault”), relationship with the Church (“if he refuses to listen, tell the church”), and relationship with God through the Church (“whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”). And no one can quite be divided from the others — they exist as a “web of relationships.”

However, the goal is not the destruction of the other, the unbridled execution of wrath and vengeance. The goal is reconciliation. The wicked are warned by Ezekiel so they may “turn from (their) way” and return to God. The sinful brother is approached so that the wrong may be recognized and overcome with mutual love. “For love is the fulfillment of the law.”

Even the commandments cited in our second reading do not serve as edicts of punishment, but proclamations of God to rehabilitate our hearts and return them to love. Behind every “thou shalt not” is an invitation to love. As St. John Paul II wrote, “they are a call to an attentive love” and “at the same time they are proof of that love.”

Sin divides and distracts. Sin dissolves and damages relationships. But love reconciles. Love fulfills the law, because love is freedom.

SHAWN REEVES has served as the director of religious education at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center in Champaign since 2001. He and his family are members of St. Malachy Parish in Rantoul.

 

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