Father Francisco and I discussed the liturgical readings before Mass including a couple of key words in the first reading, the reading from Ezekiel. The first word is the Hebrew word for sword, “Horeb,” also the name of the mountain where Moses receives the Ten Commandments. The second word is the word for “Wicked” “Russia,” “He who puts himself first.”
In his homily, Father discussed the section in the Gospel where Jesus says, “If he/your brothers errs against you and refuses to listen to the two or three others you bring as witnesses, tell the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him as a Goi, or a tax collector.”
This is the passage used for centuries to defend excommunication. There are problems with this interpretation, as Father Francisco pointed out. St. Matthew, the person relating Jesus’ words, was a tax collector. In I Corinthians 12:2 St. Paul reminds us, “When you were Goim, you were constantly attracted and led away to mute idols.” We are not Jewish. We are all Goim. If we confront our brother, and he does not repent, we are to treat him, as well, like us.
Jesus is presenting a very Jewish view of Semitic law. Deuteronomy 19:15 states, “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any rebellion, or for any simple error; at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, will you upraise an issue.”
Father presented of our Blessed Pope, at the time the Cardinals asked him to confront the Spanish Church about policies at variance with church teaching. Father Francisco related the Pope’s response, “The church comes teaching Good News, not morality.”
Father returned us to, “Russia,” “He who puts himself first.” “Satan” is a Hebrew word which means “Accuser.” When we accuse our brother, we become “Satan.” We become something to fight and resist. We become the first, and our brother ceases to be brother but becomes, “The accused.”
In the Jewish Seder/Passover liturgy, there are four sons. The Russia son asks, “What is this service to you?” The answer to the Russia son is “There is no “I” in team, and no “U,” either. A theme of Corinthians is “When we take the bread and drink the cup,” we do so as community, to become community.
In the Jewish count, the First Commandment is, “It is not to your fathers that I give these commands, but to you, each of you, standing here, alive, today.” Remember, “I am The Personal Name your Mighty Judge who rescued you from the land of Egypt/Oppression, the house of menial labor.”
Implied, “Remember what it was like to be there.” Remember what menial labor is, with insufficient income to support ourselves. Remember what abuse is. Remember the excuses abusers use to defend the abuser being first and us being the accused. Remember our rescue into a community with other imperfect people. This will teach us how to confront our neighbor, not as someone who is “The first,” or as “Satan,” but as a brother.
Father pointed out that Torah and Gospel do not directly speak to many issues that face of today. In the first century and prior, the people did not have the technology. Stem cell research is an example. We must look at this first commandment to discern what God wants. God desires for us to create community, never rising above our brothers but being brothers.