FIRST READING Ezekiel 33:7-9
Thus says the Lord: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.
SECOND READING Romans 13:8-10
Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, 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 kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
GOSPEL Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ,
One of the most difficult things in life is correcting another person. Yes, there are people who seem always to be correcting others—but that type of person rarely has any lasting success. What the Lord God wants from us is to find ways to draw others to HIM, the Lord God, by the way of correction. That is a divine task.
The first reading today is from the Prophet Ezekiel. He was told by the Lord to correct others—and he did not want to do it. God told him bluntly: if you do not tell others their faults, then you are responsible for their deaths. This is really strong language—and yet so needed today. None of us wants to tell others their faults or that what they are doing is against what God asks us to do! For instance, if we are speaking to a young couple that is living together and not married in the Church—who wants to say that out loud? And there are so many situations like that in the area of sexual morality. Our Church teaches clearly that sexual activity between two people is only moral when that activity is between a man and a woman who are married in the Church. Clearly our culture and even many of us Catholics are not comfortable saying that out loud today.
But it is not only sexual morality that is a challenge today. We have challenges in the way we treat immigrants, challenges in the way that businesses make profits, challenges in the ways in which we discuss differences in politics and differences in religion; challenges in our desires for money and power, and in so many areas of our lives. We have developed, however, a “live and let live” morality by which we can avoid any conflicts but also avoid talking about what is right and what is wrong.
Our second reading today is from the Letter to the Romans. In this letter today we hear that love is the fulfillment of the law. Yet today we often think of love as simply feeling good about one another. Love is lived today very much as a “live and let live” kind of way. Hardly anyone of us would think of a Prophet saying difficult things as a loving person. Even modern prophets can say harsh and difficult things, but we rarely think of them as “loving.” Instead, we are careful to think of them as prophet and not as people of love.
The readings today are so clear in this teaching: if you do not correct those in error, you cannot be loving them. Parents often correct their small children almost automatically and know that it is a loving thing to do. Once a child gets older, parents have to make a choice to correct their children, especially when they know that the child will not accept correction easily. And when we are in the presence of adults, we often tell ourselves that it is not our duty to correct anyone!
So we come to today’s Gospel from Saint Matthew. The passage we have today is all about how to deal with a neighbor who has wronged us. But we can also look at this from the other side where we are the one wronging someone else. It works both ways. The challenge is: how to bring about reconciliation with a deep awareness of the truth of the situation. All of us must learn that we offend others at times, that we misjudge others at times, that we take advantage of others at times. If we can come to recognize our own brokenness and lack of love towards others, then we will find it much easier to deal with the brokenness and lack of love in others.
So our first challenge today is to accept that we are broken and need correction. Only within that context can we see God’s love. Then in God’s love we might be able to speak the truth to our own culture and to others in our lives.
Your brother in the Lord,
Abbot Emeritus Philip