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Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2023

Today’s Invitation

Today, we invite you to explore displacement and suffering in the Bible and in our times with the help of theologian Catherine Keller; engage Catholic Social Teaching’s emphasis on family, community, and participation; and embody resistance to destruction with the help of Dorothy Day and The New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA).

Commentary by Suntina Spehar

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Reading 1

Ezekiel 33:7-9

Now, mere mortal,
I make you sentinel for the House of Israel.
Whenever you hear a word from my mouth,
you must give them my warning.
If I say to evildoers, “You will surely die,”
and you do not warn them to turn from their ways,
the evildoers will die because of their sin,
but I will hold you responsible for their deaths.
But if you warn the evildoers to turn from their sin,
they will die for their sins,
but you will have saved your life.

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 95

Response: If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us sing joyfully to God; / let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us greet God with thanksgiving; / let us joyfully sing psalms.
R: If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

Come, let us bow down in worship; / let us kneel before the God who made us.
For the Most High is Our God, / and we are the people God shepherds,
The flock God guides.
R: If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

“Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, / as in the day of Massah in the desert,
Where your ancestors tempted me,
They tested me though they had seen my works.”
R: If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

Reading 2

Romans 13:8-10

Owe no debt to anyone — except the debt that binds us to love one another.
If you love your neighbor, you have fulfilled the Law.
The commandments —
no committing adultery, no killing;
no stealing, no coveting, and all the others —
are all summed up in this one:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love never does any wrongs to anyone —
hence love is the fulfillment of the Law.


Mt 18:15-20

Jesus said to the disciples,
“If your sister or brother should commit some wrong against you,
go and point out the error, but keep it between the two of you.
If she or he listens to you, you have won a loved one back;
if not, try again, but take one or two others with you,
so that every case may stand on the word of two or three witnesses.
If your sister or brother refuses to listen to them,
refer the matter to the church.
If she or he ignores even the church,
then treat that sister or brother as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

“The truth is, whatever you declare bound on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you declare loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven.

“Again I tell you, if two of you on earth join in agreement to pray for anything whatsoever,
it will be granted you by my Abba God in heaven.
Where two or three are gathered in my name,
I am there in their midst.”

The Inclusive Lectionary © 2022 FutureChurch. All rights reserved. 

The inclusive language psalms:
Leach, Maureen, O.S.F. and Schreck, Nancy, O.S.F., Psalms Anew: A Non-sexist Edition
(Dubuque, IA: The Sisters of St. Francis, 1984).
Used with permission.



On Displacement and Suffering

Ezekiel’s passage puts us in a context after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonian empire in the 500s BCE and deeply entwines the realities of displacement and grief. Neighborhoods and cities have been made inaccessible to their own people: familiarity destroyed at the cost of displacement. Ezekiel calls those who remain in Jerusalem to protest the injustice in the city and condemns those who stand in complacency or support of the destruction. 

As a reader, we reflect on this passage within our own contexts, challenged to realize grief amongst the rubble and reframe grief into action in solidarity with our kin. Further, we are called to intervene: “I have made you a watchman to the house of Israel.” We must understand our duty to care for others and create understanding of displacement and destruction. It takes great courage to stand against a person whom we disagree with or who has hurt someone we love. Looking to theologian Catherine Keller in Passion in Process, we can see how this passage encourages us to “risk our best possible answer to the scary stranger… the immoral society, regardless of whether or when others will give back [love]” (97). By this practice, we find ourselves permeated by love, and driven by the desire to hold space for realities of demolition and suffering, and refute passivity and complacency.

The responsorial psalm pays homage to the enthronement and praise of God as a trustworthy and loving leader who will deliver us into salvation. This framing poses God as an example for how we ought to live: by giving thanks, exuding joy, loving others with open hearts and open minds. It supports that we must be available to all people so we may share in love with them. “Hearing God’s voice” is a metaphor for service. When we experience the needs of others, we “hear” God’s voice (which I may venture to say is more of a feeling or experience). “Hearing,” or experiencing, manifests in many ways; choose what is suitable and available to you. Although we are tempted, and may find it easier, to ignore the tragedies of today’s readings and Gospel (demolition, suffering, and mistreatment), God asks us to approach difference and pain with an open heart so we may embody God’s love and teaching.

Paul’s address in this passage is a testimony to autonomy and respect for ourselves and others. As Paul says: “you owe nothing to anyone…” except, he notes, Love. One might ponder “why love?” Mosaic law teaches the way we act must not only dignify ourselves, but those whom we interact with. Catholic tradition teaches a prosperous community is formed when Creation is protected. The foundation of a proper community must be love, for it is the greatest commandment and driving force for reconciliation, dignity, solidarity, care, and valuation of life. Catherine Keller writes when we theologize the power of love, we must understand acting in love is elemental to purpose and community (95). Loving, even in the most uncertain of circumstances, is a certain kind of power each of us holds, lest not be mistaken for control, but power, nonetheless (95-100).

The Gospel shows devotion to a communal perspective by teaching mutual accountability and witness. If one “sins against you, go and tell them their fault… if he does not listen, take others along with you.” Because of the communal perspective, it is crucial we focus on the responsibility of the “other.” As a witness in another’s life, it is our duty to help mend relationships, if we have the capacity to. Our vocation, as witnesses and characters in each other’s lives, is to care for our kin in order that we all may share in the Kingdom of God. Not only is the witness in solidarity with the one who has experienced destruction or harm, they also bear witness to the colloquy. Here Keller reminds us that “the attitude toward our fellow creatures is the test and trail of our attitude toward the source of all creatures” (98). Let us be cognizant of the Catholic teachings of dignity, solidarity, and valuation of life, even in precarious situations. The Imago Dei, or image of God is omnipresent in every person. Without the recognition of God in all things and in all people, we find ourselves slipping into loveless habits, violating Creation. 

Catherine Keller is an American theologian whose work centers around social and ecological justice, and poses an interdisciplinary approach to the field of theology. She advocates for “a life together, across vast webs of difference.” She currently teaches at Drew Theological Seminary and has written over five books.

Commentary by Suntina Spehar

Suntina Spehar obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology (neuroscience) and Theology from College of Saint Benedict and a Master of Arts in Social Ethics from Union Theological Seminary, where most of her work centered around feminist and ecological theology. She currently works in the non-profit sector with youth programming and development.

Engage Catholic Social Teaching

Catholic Social Teaching states that human beings are not only sacred, but we are social creatures, and it calls attention to family, community, and participation. Human beings are called to participate in the lives of others and to build community on a foundation of love. 

In this week’s readings, we understand a call to action when bearing witness to destruction and tensions in the lives of those around us. The first reading named the effort a community must make to ensure those who have been displaced and whose spaces have been destroyed (let us consider both tangible and intangible spaces), and the responsibility to hold those who are  maltreating others accountable. The second reading is a testimony to the foundation on which community must be built: love. Humans have both a right and a duty to participate in society, and to ensure that the well-being of all is sought by the communities we identify with. The Gospel builds on the message of the second reading and teaches about shared accountability. Certainly, we are our kin’s keepers, and we are responsible for the urge, direction, and demand for a just and comfortable space in which people can express themselves in full authenticity.

Without participation in each other’s lives, and without others’ participation in our lives, the experiment of community, built on the basis of love, will fail. We hold an obligation to each other to participate in full and unabashed companionship. Companionship allows full potential for flourishing and accountability. It denounces destruction for gain of power, and refutes maltreatment of those with whom we share relationships. 


A Contemplative Exercise

Take just a moment from your day to think of a time when you may have hurt another person. Bring yourself back to that situation and contemplate the words or actions used, the feelings you embodied in that moment, the way you physically felt, and try to name the hurt that caused you to lash out. Peer inward and try to touch that feeling. Perhaps the hurt remains. If it is available to you, and when you feel ready, materialize this scenario: write it down or verbalize it.

Is this scenario something you feel comfortable mending? Is there another person you are able to express these feelings with? It is important that we consider the way we impact others, if we want to be in real community. Holding ourselves accountable can be difficult, and it can be even more difficult to admit when we have done wrong. It takes meticulous work and care, but in order to give others the respect they deserve and to dignify others in our interactions with them, it is necessary. 

A Witness

Dorothy Day

A particularly important figure in the movement against destruction, and creator of community, is Dorothy Day. 

Day is known for her peaceful and effective activism and for co-founding The Catholic Worker movement. Her aim was to transform individuals and society in order to emulate the peace, care, and love that each individual deserves. She was a radical activist who detested the reality of poverty. She opened “houses of hospitality” to those who needed a meal and a place to stay, usually those who were unwanted by other charitable organizations, and was known to oppose “racial segregation, nuclear warfare, the draft, and armed conflict around the world…” (Source).

She held systems of destruction accountable, being arrested multiple times for demonstrating against the United States government, and even landed on J. Edgar Hoover’s “watch list.” 

She held the strong belief that the most detestable people were the reflection of Christ and ought to be treated as such. Pope Francis, when addressing the United States Congress in 2015 noted, “her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.” Because of her impact and hard work, Dorothy Day has received posthumous recognitions in academia, music, and film.

A Community

The New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault

The New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NYSCASA) is an organization that is rooted in accountability and transformative justice. Transformative justice ensures violence is addressed without creating more violence, or supporting already-existing systems of violence, and serves as a way to mediate and destroy harm that is inflicted on individuals. It has the ability to increase one’s ability to embody relationality in communities of similar circumstance, as well as those of diverse experience. 

NYSCASA cultivates “healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved.” They ensure communal accountability by committing to continuous development in communities, providing safety and support to those who have been targeted, creating and affirming practices that halt violence, and create sustainable practices that address harmful behavior. These practices can be applied to a diverse range of scenarios. By implementing these practices, communities will be able to break systems of harm and hold each other accountable by building a framework inspired by love and care. 


“Nurturing and Caring” by Leon Zernitsky


Image description: Against a background that consists of orange, yellow, and green brushstrokes, A sketched figure stands to the right of a tree watering it out of a watering can. The tree is sketched in black, and rises up into a face figure with leaves inside and around it.