Gospel Reflections

23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Matthew 18:15-20

Sunday Gospel Reflection by Sister Jane Dwyer

Published: September 10, 2017

“Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”  “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me.”

Rural Brazilians, especially from the north/northeast  think and reveal themselves in stories and parables. They are therefore at home in the Scriptures and easily move about in the texts.  One of their stories, one they live more and more each day, expresses well today´s Gospel.  The family is rural, northern Brazil.  One of the younger girls, Maria,is very rebellious. She is always in trouble, fighting with her many brothers and sisters, unable to communicate with her mother and father.  After difficult encounters she would leave home in a huff.  Time and again, when she would return repentant, the family welcomed her into their circle.  Finally she declared she was finished and no longer considered herself a member of the family.  Especially angry with her parents, she declared she was leaving home never to return.  The words and decision were shouted in hot and irrational anger.  The family sadly watched as she prepared her satchel and left never to return.  Two years passed with no word from Maria.  Then one day a young man arrived at their door with the following message:  “Maria, your daughter, says she is sorry for the way she has treated her family.  She is especially sorry for the angry words thrown at her parents.  She wants to return home, but remembers how she left, saying she was leaving never to return, blaming the family and especially her parents for her unhappiness. She will return soon to discover your decision. If you refuse to receive her, she says she understands.  But if perhaps you can pardon and welcome her into the family circle once more, tie a white bow on the orange tree in front of the property.  If there is no white bow, she will continue her journey.  If she finds a white bow tied to a branch of the orange tree she will understand and return home. 

Some weeks passed and Maria didn´t appear.  When finally she found the courage to return and discover her family´s decision, what did she find:  an orange tree covered with hundreds of little white bows balancing in the soft breeze awaiting her return home.     What does this simple, moving story say to us in the light of today´s Gospel?  Where does it find echo in each of us and in our communities, be they religious or Basic Christian Communities?  The Gospel calls us to live and bring forth justice faithfully.  What justice is this?  It is a justice that does not break the bruised reed, a justice that does not injure or offend the fragile, the broken, the lost; a justice that can be endlessly patient, believing in God´s life giving and life-changing presence in everyone and every situation.

 We are not called to judge, we are called to forgive.  Forgiveness births relationships, caring, healing, welcoming, embracing.  Forgiveness has no defenses, does not use logic and rationality to understand the broken.  Forgiveness sees, feels the broken and holds out an open hand in understanding and welcome.  Justice does not happen in courts and law offices.  Justice does not happen with juries and jails. Justice rarely happens in confessionals and interventions.   Money, righteousness and vindictiveness do not birth forgiveness; they allow greed and violence to oppress, rupture and prohibit any possible dialogue toward forgiveness and transformation.   Justice happens in dialogue and forgiveness.  Justice happens in an orange tree filled with little white bows balancing in the breeze, welcoming a lost and fragile daughter and sister home again.


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