Too often, we hear simple yet important truths that we take for granted. We know that we are connected to all humans and the rest of God’s creation, but often don’t live that connection with our choices. We also know that prayer — our communication with God — is important, essential and effective for living well. Those two truths are hard to argue against, but also very difficult to believe and live with hope.
Let’s address the connectedness of God’s creation as we consider the Scriptures for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Matthew’s Gospel reminds us of our responsibility to help each other live good moral lives. We need to help each other stay on the straight and narrow and to come back to God when we wander away. We’re cautioned against noticing the sin in someone else’s life without first dealing with the sin in our own lives — remember the image of the beam and the splinter. We begin every Mass by acknowledging that we are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. By noticing the sin in another person’s life, we are simply acknowledging that we have more in common than we might imagine.
When someone tries to help us notice our own faults and failings, it’s easy to get defensive and avoid facing the truth. It helps if we can tell that the person who is bringing it up has a sense of love and concern for us, rather than self-righteousness and judgment. As we try to do this with each other, it’s helpful to regularly exhibit the behavior that we are sinners and doing our best to improve our lives. We are not above other people as we notice their sins, nor are we superior to someone else who still might be grappling with some difficulty in their lives. We are all brothers and sisters and children of one God.
In our conversations with God, it should be a normal part of our prayer to include the needs of others. As we experience the faults and failings of others in addition to our own, we can bring to God our need for forgiveness as individuals and as a community. We can bring to God our gratitude for giving us a chance to be forgiven again and again. We can thank God for the privilege of being the ones who offer forgiveness to others 70 times seven. We can also pray for humility so that when we discuss another person’s faults, they also understand that we are with them. One of the most convincing aspects of Jesus’ love for us is that even in His confrontation with our sin, He was willing to die for us. I wonder, when we confront others about their sin, do they also know that we would be willing to die for them? Do we follow in the footsteps of Jesus in this manner of living, or is that too much of a commitment for us?
Most of us gather together in groups of two or three or larger. We gather in prayer and worship of God. The Scriptures this weekend acknowledge that God is with us when we gather in that way. Do we believe in the power of prayer, and in turn, to those we are praying for? What power God has shared with us!
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.