Sunday, September 06, 2020

Going to God with the Solution versus Going to God with the Problem

(Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on September 6, 2020 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95:1-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-third Sunday 2020]

One day a man named John is deeply offended by his friend Bill.  John goes before the Lord and prays in this fashion: “Dear God, you know everything.  You know what Bill did to me.  You know how his words and actions have hurt me.  So change him; please change him.  Make him realize what he's done.  Make him come to me and apologize.  Thank you, God.  Amen.”

The very same day a woman named Mary is deeply offended by her friend Jane.  She also decides to pray, but her prayer is a little different than John's.  (See if you can determine the difference.)  She says, “Dear God, you know everything.  You know how deeply I’ve been hurt.  But I’m not sure what I should do about it.  Should I confront Jane?  Should I wait for her to apologize?  Should I pretend that the whole incident never happened?  Should I break off my friendship with her completely?  Lord, help me to see how you want me to deal with this very unpleasant situation.  Amen.”

Now it's interesting, on the following Sunday, both John and Mary go to church, and the gospel that's read on that occasion is the one all of you heard this morning: Matthew, chapter 18, verses 15 to 20.  The question is, who is more likely to take the message of this gospel to heart and actually put it into practice—John or Mary?  The answer is Mary.  And you can find the reason for that in the prayers they uttered beforehand.  Yes, both of them went to the Lord in the midst of their difficulties—that's true.  But they approached God in very different ways—which is the key point.  John went to God with the solution.  Mary went to God with the problem. Before John ever spoke a word of his prayer he already had everything figured out in his own mind.  He thought he knew exactly what had to happen for things to get straightened out with Bill.  So his prayer basically consisted of giving God orders.  In effect he said, “Ok Lord, here's the scoop—this is the solution to the problem.  Bill is a dirty, rotten scoundrel and he's got to change.  Which is your job, God; you change him.  Make him realize what he's done to poor, innocent me!  Make him come to me and apologize—and we'll all live happily ever after.  Thank you God.  Amen.”

So here comes the Lord, the very next Sunday, speaking to John directly and clearly in this gospel text, giving him concrete guidelines on how to deal with Bill.  Jesus says there, “If your brother should commit some wrong against you, do this—and if that doesn't work, do this—and if that doesn't work, do this—and if that doesn't work, do this.”  I think it's safe to say that those words would probably go in one of John's ears and right out the other.  He wouldn't pay any attention to the Lord's solution to his problem, because he's already got his own.

Notice how different Mary was—as illustrated in her prayer.  She had the very same problem as John, but she went to the Lord asking him for the answer, asking him for guidance, asking him for HIS solution.  The basic thrust of her prayer was, “Dear God, this is the problem I’m facing, and I’m not sure how to deal with it.  Help me to see what I need to do to handle it properly.  Help me to see what I need to do to be reconciled with my friend.” 

So I think it should be obvious, when she goes to church the following Sunday and hears this gospel passage proclaimed, in all likelihood she’ll respond by saying, “Thank you, Lord, this is just what I needed to hear.  These are the guidelines I need to follow to get my relationship with Jane back in order.”  And then, if she's really smart, Mary will go to someone (perhaps her parish priest) for a little spiritual direction, in order to figure out how to apply these principles of Jesus to her particular situation. 

I share this with you today because I think it’s very common for people to go to God like John did: with the solution and not the problem.  I've certainly been guilty of this; I'm sure we all have.  We say, “Lord, this is what I want—this is what I need—this is what I think you should do.”  And we never go any further than that.  So we never receive (and put into practice) the solution God may try to give us through a text of Scripture at Mass, or through the words of another person, or through some other means. We don't hear it, because our minds and hearts are closed.  We think we’ve already got it all figured out.

The challenge is to go to the Lord with the attitude of Mary: putting the problem confidently in his hands, and allowing him to give us his solution.  Because the fact of the matter is, my brothers and sisters, God’s solution is at least as good as ours is—always!  And, most of the time, it is much, much better.