For 10 September 2023, Twenty Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, based on Romans 13:8–10, Matthew 18:15–20

Romans 13:8–10

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Matthew 18:15–20

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Before I became a sister, I was a member of a Catholic charismatic lay community in the UK. One of the most transformative experiences I had whilst in the community – indeed, in my whole Christian life – was receiving deliverance ministry over the course of several months. This unlocked some of the deeper roots of my sin and started healing some of the core wounds of my heart. It equipped me with the spiritual skill of binding and loosening all the things that I, and every person, encounter on our walk through life. Further to that, I was privileged to take part in a national conference on deliverance ministry that the community hosted for others looking to receive the same blessings, and saw many people empowered through deliverance.
This ministry goes by the title ‘Unbound’, and it is an initiative started by Neal Lozano, Director of Heart of the Father ministries, in the United States. It is a model of prayer which seeks to help people access inner freedom and healing in Christ, through five key tools: repentance and faith, forgiveness, renunciation, taking authority and receiving the Father’s blessing. The biggest blessing we have received as Christians is being adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism. Through baptism, we are bound to Christ and to our fellow Christians. But in order to maintain loving, free and healthy bonds to Christ and to each other, we sometimes need to take stock and explore the knots and weeds that hinder us in order to unbind ourself from these.
The theme of ‘unbinding’ is one which runs throughout our Mass readings today. We hear in our second reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Romans the words: “owe nothing to anyone, except so as to love one another”. Sometimes this verse is interpreted to mean Christians should avoid financial debt. Leaving the complexities of the financial market aside, if we interpret this verse from a moral perspective rather than a financial one and put it into its wider context in Scripture, we can see that St Paul begins this chapter to the Romans by advising Christians to be subject to the authorities. In verse 7, we read: “Pay to all what is due them: taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honour to whom honour is due”. So this verse should prompt us to examine ourselves and see if we are owing – as a matter of justice, are we deficient in duly paying our share of the tax burden, have we robbed our neighbour of their reputation or livelihood, have we broken the law without just cause? These things bind us to the kingdom of darkness and not the kingdom of Christ. If we notice a deficit in ourselves, we always have the opportunity to repent, make restitution and amend our ways. Returning to our Unbound prayer model, it is repentance which begins our journey to inner healing and restoration.
But what about the person who suffered the injustice – the person who has been cheated financially, or disrespected? Is nothing required of them? Is this a one-sided admonition? No, Christian love is reciprocal. The reference to ‘debts’ should recall to us the words of the Our Father prayer which we say at every Mass, and which asks God to ‘forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us’. Here we should rejoice at the reminder that we are a forgiven people! And for that reason we must forgive others, for every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), and yet Christ extends his pierced hands to offer forgiveness to every single person who chooses to believe and repent in his Name.
The Unbound prayer model makes forgiveness one of the five key tools for inner healing and freedom, yet it is one which too easily goes unnoticed or unaddressed. Perhaps this is because it is so hard, or perhaps because there is a greater awareness now of the abuses and negligence that have silently afflicted the institutions of our society – the family, the Church, the Government or public sector professions – for such a long time. Perhaps because of the heavy weight of hushed up injustices, asking victims to forgive can seem like one demand too many in the litany of their burdens. However, unforgiveness is one of the major blocks to inner healing, it keeps a person burdened and bound to their pain and to the perpetrator. This brings home to us one of the fundamental truths about the moral law: that when God commands something, it is for our good, for our sake, not for His. Unforgiveness sets us free. Holding onto our bitterness, resentment and pain does not get one up on our neighbour who has offended us, it only poisons our own heart and sets us apart from God. Indeed, forgiveness is such a weighty matter that it can affect our reception of God’s grace of salvation: we hear Jesus say: For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6: 14-15). We must not risk being shut out of the kingdom because of an unforgiving heart. This would be the ultimate triumph of evil in our life.
Jesus instead is the door to eternal life, he teaches us to be like God, and we can be most like our Heavenly Father when we forgive. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says to his disciples: “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”. Let us release the burdens of sin and suffering through showing and receiving forgiveness – it is an act of eternal mercy. One of the greatest gifts we have in the Church is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This is a real experience of the mercy of Christ and an outpouring of His grace to heal and strength us. May we all we propelled to meet Christ in that place where he will loosen our burdens and bind us more closely to Himself and His Church.

Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Sr. Rose Rolling, OP

About Sr. Rose Rolling OP

Sr Rose is a newly professed sister with the English Dominican Congregation of St Catherine of Siena, based in Cambridge, UK.