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Breaking Open the Word

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time 

September 10, 2023

00:00 / 03:04


In today’s first reading, the Lord God defines the role of an Old Testament prophet. The prophet is Ezekiel who was taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar and brought from Jerusalem to Babylon in 597 B.C.  “You, son of man,” Yahweh addresses His prophet, “I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear Me say anything, you shall warn them for me.” Like a watchman, the prophet exists only for the good of others, in this case, those deported with him from Israel to Babylon. He is to give them God’s words, to challenge them, and to correct them from time to time, so that if they should go wrong, the responsibility would be theirs.  Ancient cities had watchmen on the city walls who would blow a trumpet if they saw an enemy approaching. If people ignored the warning, the city might be conquered, but this wasn’t the watchman’s fault. If a watchman failed to warn people of danger, however, the blame was his. As watchman, Ezekiel isn’t to look for enemies coming from outside Israel but from within it. When Israel hears the prophet’s warning, the nation should prepare to battle not its enemies but its own sin. The penalty Ezekiel faces if he fails to warn God’s people is as severe as the penalty the people face, death. The penalty might reinforce the idea of a harsh Old Testament God, but God calls Ezekiel to be a watchman so that people will turn away from sin and be saved.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul summarizes the second tablet of the commandments (fourth through tenth commandments) in the single commandment to love one’s neighbor. This was not a completely new idea in Jewish thought, nor is it a new idea to those who hear it. It is an important reminder, however, that love of neighbor should be the guiding the principle for our dealings with others. There may be some people who still think of religion as primarily a matter of following rules and not breaking the commandments. This reading might call them to a deeper understanding of the commandments as expressions of love for God and neighbor.

00:00 / 01:26

Gospel Explained

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus addresses a common occurrence in the Christian community: a dispute between two members of the Church. Jesus outlines a procedure for settling such matters fairly. The victim should privately address the offender and attempt to resolve the dispute without outside involvement. If that fails, then the victim should bring two or three witnesses and confront the offender again. If the dispute is still unresolved, the matter should be brought to the attention of the entire community. If the offender refuses to adhere to the reparations prescribed by the community, then Jesus suggests that the offender may be expelled from the Church.

Jesus does not discourage disagreement within the community of the Church; he acknowledges the reality of conflict and error and offers his disciples a means for addressing such matters. It is in the conclusion to this teaching that the message of hope is found: Jesus is present with the community and will guide the community in its relations. If decisions are taken in prayer, then the community can be assured of God’s assistance.

00:00 / 01:18

Today's Theme

In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls the Church to the responsibility for confronting the sinful just as the watchman in the first reading from Ezekiel. Very few people in the world today would consider themselves accountable and responsible for anything that happens in the society, but the truth is that we are. For, as Christians, we are all God’s prophets, God’s representatives, God’s watchmen, set on elevated places to give warning of approaching danger to our brothers and sisters. The prophets of all times have a grave responsibility for their people’s salvation. None of us can retire from the task of being watchmen. As Ezekiel is appointed watchman over the house of Israel in today’s first reading, so Jesus in the Gospel today establishes his disciples as guardians of the new Israel of God, the Church.

00:00 / 01:35

Theme in our Life Today

The call to confront sin without judging sinners is a call to navigate the narrow and dangerous waters between spiritual arrogance and spiritual complacency. Some see evil all around them but never in their own hearts. Others treat sin as a minor mistake that does no real harm to the individual or to the community. We are called today to take the middle way between these extremes. If we have been wronged, or if we see the community being harmed, we are to take the initiative in confronting the situation, not with arrogance but with respect for both the offender and the church. In a world of such hatred for anyone who stands up for what is right and is consistent with their religious beliefs, we must remain faithful to Christ and stand strong in our faith. If we do not agree with the sinful acts and lifestyles that happen all around us, we are considered wrong or not accepting.  It is a troubling society when the media puts more importance in hurting someone’s feelings over our Catholic beliefs and the commandments that we are asked to follow. We need to stay strong in our faith and keep Jesus as the center of lives as we face these dark challenges.

00:00 / 01:26

Prepare for Sunday

To Prepare for this Sunday’s Liturgy of the Word, consider the following:

  1. 1. Relate a time when you hurt someone and the person confronted you about it. How did you feel and how did you respond?

  2. 2. Some conflicts are a part of any ongoing group. How do you handle conflict?

  3. 3. Relate a time when your prayers were answered but not as you expected.

  4. 4. When have you experienced the power of prayer through your small community?


Lord Jesus, today let us hear your voice; open our hearts to your love. When we sin, help us to admit it. When we persist in sin, give us the strength and wisdom to ask for help. When someone points out our sin, humble us to receive correction. When we must point out someone else’s sin, help us to speak with gentleness and love. Today let us hear your voice; open our hearts to your love. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

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