Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
MT 18:15-20
September 10, 2017

The Gospel passage for this 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time is a little like the Grand Canyon; there is so much to take in that you don’t know where to look. At the moment, however, headline news together with the first two Readings seems to direct our attention towards the themes of WARNINGS and POWER!

The growing nuclear arsenal of North Korea and the four hurricanes are major topics of concern these days. All of the threats and warnings from other nations seem to have done nothing to quiet the ambitions of this rogue nation to become a nuclear power. Many residents in coastal areas have the same feeling. In spite of the tragic experiences from hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, there were Texans who stubbornly ignored the warnings, preferring to stay in their homes and face the power of nature. There are always some who ignore warnings and even mandatory orders to evacuate, insisting on weathering the storm.

All three of our Readings, in one way or another, are WARNINGS!

The prophet is charged with the duty to warn against behavior that is offensive to God. Appeasement is not an option. The spiritual life is no place for negotiations. Turning a blind eye to offenses against God’s Law seems more of a risk than that taken by the offender.

This seems unfair, doesn’t it? Warning someone to change their ways also seems as impossible as trying to negotiate an end to nuclear escalation…or to talk a hurricane into changing directions and heading back to sea.

Consider how our Church has been the target of a great deal of criticism for the warnings we continue to voice about the sanctity of human life. Pope Francis was challenged for the warnings he has set out in his encyclical Laudato Si, urging greater care for our planet. The American Bishops have been in the crosshairs of public opinion when they send out messages of warning on social justice issues such as our country’s immigration policies, labor laws, and universal health care. How many parents have tried to warn their children about some spiritual transgression, only to be rebuffed, ridiculed, or even shut out of their children’s lives?

It really is an inconvenient truth that efforts to exercise the absolute obligation to WARN are risky business, very often futile, and the cause of great suffering. But we must consider ourselves warned…warned not to remain silent.

In our Gospel, Jesus lays out an approach to this sort of thing. He encourages persistence. If one fails in the first effort, try something different. If that doesn’t work, take another approach. Should that prove unsuccessful, escalate efforts.

It is impossible to convince a hurricane to change course, and sometimes it is impossible to call someone to conversion. When that is the reality, then Jesus counsels not to risk being drawn deeper into the storm; but “to evacuate.” There are times when there simply is no choice but to leave things behind and to move on to a place of safety and shelter.

That’s the warning part of our Readings. There is also the matter of POWER!

In the Second Reading, St. Paul explains what motivates someone to raise a prophetic voice, warning against things that are in opposition to God’s will and God’s way. It is all about love…love of God and love of neighbor. Love is the reason for the obligation, the power that drives our efforts, the reward when our efforts are successful, and the balm that heals our wounds when it looks like our best efforts have failed.

I warned you that this week is the “Grand Canyon” of Readings. Where do you begin? Possibly by focusing on just one area in your life where your voice…your word of warning, spoken in love…might make a difference. Take a risk. Be persistent. Don’t give up if your first efforts seem to have been futile. Look for a different approach. And if you reach the point that you honestly believe that there can be no resolution, take shelter in God’s love.

And never lose sight of the fact that you are more powerful than any weapon of mass destruction, or any force of nature when you speak and act out of love. Love is God and God is love. There is no greater power! And that power is at your complete disposal. Take a risk and use it.