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A Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

by Carmen M. Nanko-Fernández | September 10, 2017

A Scripture Reflection for the Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

September 10, 2017: Ez 33:7-9; Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20

There is a temptation to tame the readings for this Sunday, to take the sting out of Ezekiel's reminder that the sins of the wicked condemn the silent, to disregard the anger of God at the end of a familiar psalm, to reduce love of neighbor to a platitude, to focus on the two or three gathered in prayer as opposed to a process that leads to excommunication.
There is a temptation to condense the complex content of each biblical text to a manageable tweet of 140 characters or preferably less:
"Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
"Love your neighbor as yourself."
"Oh, that today you would hear his voice: Do not harden your hearts."
"I have appointed you watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me."
To redact these scriptures for byte sized consumption strips them of their unsettling power "to be fulfilled in our hearing," to impact our own time, to inspire action in our painfully troubled contexts.
There is no mistaking the urgency in the words of Ezekiel, disquieting words the prophet finds necessary to repeat twice, first in 3:16-21 as a prelude to judgment oracles and again in 33:7-9 as prelude to oracles of salvation. Those who fail to warn the wicked to cease and desist action that is inconsistent with God's justice are to be held accountable. Silence in this case is complicity. To claim prophetic voice and not use its power to dissuade brings judgment not only on the head of the wicked but the prophet as well. Those who are acting counter to the dignity of God's creation deserve warning to change their ways.
Those called to prophetic ministry are not responsible if their efforts go unheeded, but they are obliged to try to change hearts and minds, to bear witness to God's mercy and justice.
Paul tells the Romans, "Love does no evil to the neighbor" but that does not imply that love allows the neighbor to get away with evil. The responsibility to live in communities guided by love suggests a process for communal correction in Matthew. Love demands transformation and persistence, but refusal to reckon with sinfulness has consequences, that in effect, cut one off from community.
The wicked, the just, the silent--we are all neighbors to each other. While we may not agree, those called to prophetic ministry as individuals, communities, and institutions are obligated to resist, to warn, to make an option for the vulnerable. There can be no silence in the presence of organized hate, systemic intolerance, pervasive racism, unconscionable violence, fear of deportation, degradation of creation.
These biblical texts are hard to digest in the current political context in the USA. They hit too close to home. Yet the past few weeks and months have yielded images and examples of neighbors manifesting love for neighbor in ordinary and prophetic ways.
  • Four Mexican bakers, trapped in their Houston bakery by the floods of hurricane Harvey, used the time creatively to bake countless loaves of bread and pan dulce to feed those made hungry and homeless by the storm.
  • Leaders in business, education, politics, and religion called out presidential threats to terminate protections that defer action to deport children and young people brought to the USA as alternately documented immigrants.
  • In the Archdiocese of ChicagoParish Peace Project and Warriors of Peace put their faith in action through a peace walk, a growing global grassroots expression gaining traction under #peacewalk.
  • The president of CTU joined other civic and religious leaders in denouncing the violence and racism highlighted in Charlottesville.
  • One hundred scholars from diverse religious traditions drew on the wisdom of their respective faith communities and sacred texts to summon political leaders to lead with integrity.
For those who pray the liturgy of the hours, Psalm 95 is familiar as the prayer that begins each day. The comforting rhythms of its call to worship and affirmations of divine and creative power invite praise. But the last verses of the sacred song troubles in its portrayal of an angry God who appears to hold a grudge against a generation whose heart had gone astray even though they had seen God's works (95:9-11). The liturgical refrain in Sunday's responsorial psalm urges another generation "to harden not your hearts." To have experienced God's work, to have been called to prophetic ministry, to belong to a community makes us mutually accountable, an accountability lived as and in love for neighbor. Such an imperative is not trite. It demands a love that dares to resist all that debases the image of God in our neighbor, in ourselves, and in creation. In resistant love such as this God is praised.
The above image is from the Public Domain.
Author information Carmen M. Nanko-Fernández

Professor of Hispanic Theology and Ministry and Director of the Hispanic Theology and Ministry Program
M.A., D.Min., The Catholic University of America

Carmen Nanko-Fernández is a Latin@ theologian with extensive experience in teaching, ministry and administration. She is a past President of the Academy of Catholic Hispanic Theologians of the United States (ACHTUS) and in 2012 received their Virgilio Elizondo Award for “distinguished achievement in theology.”

Her publications include the book Theologizing en Espanglish: Context, Community and Ministry (Orbis Books, 2010); several chapters in anthologies and numerous articles in theological and pastoral journals. Among the book chapters are: “Ordinary Theologies, Extraordinary Circumstances: Baseball at the Intersections of Faith and Popular Culture,” in Recovering 9/11 in New York, R. Fanuzzi & M. Wolfe, eds. (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014); co-authored with Jean-Pierre Ruiz, “Dialogues in the Margins: The Biblia De Alba and the Future of Catholic-Jewish Understanding,” in Toward the Future: Essays on Catholic-Jewish Relations in Memory of Rabbi León Klenicki, C. Deutsch et al., eds. (Paulist Press, 2013); “Alternately Documented Theologies: Mapping Border, Exile and Diaspora,” in Religion and Politics in America's Borderlands, S. Azaransky, ed. (Lexington Books, 2013); “Creation: A Cosmo-politan Perspective” in In Our Own Voices: Latino/a  Renditions of Theology, B. Valentin, ed. (Orbis, 2010); “¡Despierta Iglesia! Reconfiguring Theologies of Ministry Latinamente” in Ministries in the Church, (ConciliumSeries (2010/1), S. Ross et al., eds. (SCM, 2010); "From Pájaro to Paraclete: Retrieving the Spirit of God in the Company of Mary,” in Building Bridges, Doing Justice: Constructing a Latino/a Ecumenical Theology, O. Espín, ed. (Orbis 2009); “Language, Community and Identity,” in Handbook of Latina/o Theologies, E. Aponte & M. de la Torre, eds. (Chalice Press, 2006); “Justice Crosses the Border: The Preferential Option for the Poor in the United States, ” in A Reader in Latina Feminist Theology: Religion and Justice, M. Aquino et al., eds. (University of Texas Press, 2002) and in translation in Glaube an der Grenze, Die US-amerikanische Latino-Theologie,R. Fornet-Betancourt, ed. (Herder, 2002); “Ordinary Theologies, Extraordinary Circumstances: Baseball at the Intersections of Faith and Popular Culture,” in Recovering 9/11 in New York, Robert Fanuzzi and Michael Wolfe, editors. Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2014, 68-87; "Lo Cotidiano as Locus Theologicus,” in The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Latino/a Theology, Orlando O. Espín, editor. Oxford, England: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015.

Nanko-Fernández’s scholarship reflects an appreciation for contextual and postcolonial theologies and focuses on areas of Latin@ theologies, Catholic social teaching, interreligious, ecumenical and intercultural relations, im/migration and the intersections between faith and popular culture with particular attention to béisbol. She has presented in a variety of academic and pastoral venues including the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

Her editorial work includes service on the boards of the Feasting on the Gospels book series (Westminster John Knox), the Journal of Hispanic / Latino Theology, Horizons and asa pastco-editor of the New Theology Review. Nanko-Fernández was the convener of the Latin@ section of the Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA), co-chair of the Committee on Underrepresented Ethnic and Racial Groups (CUERG) of the CTSA, co-chair of the Latino/a Religion, Culture, and Society section of the American Academy of Religion (AAR), longtime Treasurer of ACHTUS and a member of the leadership team for the Latina/o Faculty Colloquy sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion (2008-2009). In March 2011 she was featured in an interview "Spanglish Lessons: Diversity and Theology," in U.S. Catholic She was editorial reviewer for Diálogo (DePaul University), a Latin@ theology submission (2012).

Currently Nanko-Fernández is researching and writing another book, ¡El Santo! Baseball and the Canonization of Roberto Clemente, which is under contract with the Sport and Religion series of Mercer University Press. With Gary Riebe-Estrella she is co-editor of the forthcoming Fortress Press book series Disruptive Cartographers: Remapping Theology Latinamente.

Books written by and featuring Carmen Nanko-Fernández

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