23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Year A. Bible Study: Ezekiel 33:7-9, Psalm 95, Romans 13:8-10 and Matthew 18:15-20
“If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 33:8)
In our Gospel passage last Sunday, Jesus, just after making Peter the head of the Church and giving him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, shockingly addressed him with these words: “Get behind me Satan.” How come Jesus did not even try to be diplomatic? Wasn’t there a softer way to put it? Today’s readings practically answer these questions.
We learn from Ezekiel that if we fail to correct (win back) those going astray, God will hold us responsible for their blood. Nevertheless, in correcting them, we must do it with a spirit of love because as St. Paul says, love is the only debt we should owe anyone. Meanwhile, Jesus gives us the steps we are to follow in this process of winning back and reconciling with one another. This brings us to our lessons for today:
1. If You See Something; Say Something.
Our society is being destroyed today not because bad people are succeeding but because those who consider themselves good are totally indifferent; they just don’t care. I guess you have heard the statement: “mind your business” especially when you are attempting to speak up against evil, injustice or crime. Today, the Word of God to Ezekiel teaches us that by minding our business (when it comes to evil), we become collaborators.
Silence is golden but there are times when silence becomes an endorsement of evil. If we see a brother or sister going down on the path of destruction, it is our business to warn that brother or sister. This is a very delicate and difficult task. It reminds us of the statement of Jesus in last Sunday’s Gospel passage: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25).
St. John the Baptist was not one who would keep quiet in the face of evil. To the Pharisees and Sadducees, John the Baptist said: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7). To the tax collectors, soldiers and everyone who came his way, John the Baptist gave it straight to them. He eventually landed in prison when he told Herod that it was wrong to marry his brother’s wife.
Where are our watchmen today? Where are those prepared to die for speaking truth to power? Have we become carried away by the Gospel of prosperity or have we sold our conscience by collecting bribes from those in power? When we are going to realize that worshipping God goes beyond merely trying to make people feel good? It is easy to point fingers at priests and religious but let us ask ourselves, does anything stop me from becoming a watchman for God?
2. Face the Truth, Harden Not Your Heart
It is easy to point out the speck in other people’s eyes but not too easy to realize there is a log in our own eyes. Our responsorial psalm today flips the coin contained in our first reading by singing: “O that day you would listen to his voice! Harden, not your hearts.” In other words, be open to the truth. Let us face it, none of us likes to be told the truth but if we consider ourselves perfect, how then do we hope to convert or correct anyone else?
When the message is about victory over our enemies or succeeding in life against all odds, we consider the preacher as anointed but if it is about repentance from the sins we know we are guilty of, we consider the preacher as boring, unattractive and vindictive. We even turn around to attack the preacher by asking questions or by pointing out his/her own sins. We live in the age St. Paul wrote about, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)
3. Owe No One Anything except Love
It is one thing to correct someone with the intention of bringing him or her back to the fold but a different thing altogether to condemn a person out of hatred or the feeling of pride. In other words, without love, we could actually be playing the devil who the bible describes as the “accuser of our brethren who accuses them day and night before our God.” (Cf. Rev. 12:10). The beautiful thing is that we cannot pretend about love. When our correction is not motivated by love, instead of winning back a brother or sister, we end up pushing them further away.
More ever, when there is hatred in our hearts against someone, we practically become blind to everything good in him or her. We see only negatives, we even see problems where there no problems at all. We become like the scribes and Pharisees who were so blind to the Divinity of Jesus that all they could see in him were faults. Hatred blinds us. As St. John warns us: “He who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” (1 John 2:11).
Do not become a tool in the hands of the devil, examine your heart thoroughly before attempting to correct a brother/sister. In recent times, we have had episodes of seeing the dirty linens of highly respected persons being washed in the public square of social media. If you must involve social media in your attempt to correct someone, know that you may just be acting plainly out of hatred because by so doing, you are literally destroying their reputation. As St. Paul puts it: “Love does no wrong to a neighbour.” (Romans 13:10)
4. When You Are Offended, Make Efforts To Reconcile.
Very often, we only make efforts to reconcile with those we know we have offended but Jesus is asking us to do more; He says that when a brother sins against us, that is, when we know we are clearly in the right, we should not wait for them to come and apologize, rather we should go and reconcile with them. Once again, this entails denying ourselves and taking up our cross to follow Jesus.
Basically, Jesus is saying to us that we should never carry any grudge in our heart against anyone. Very often, what happens is that when someone offends us, we bottle it up in our hearts, even the person is not even aware we are angry and our anger soon boils up into full-blown hatred. In the presence of that person, we pretend to be friendly but behind their backs, we destroy them and should we ever get an opportunity to revenge, we unleash our hatred like an atomic bomb. This behaviour may be common even among Christians but it is demonic and devilish.
On the cross of Calvary, Jesus prayed “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). If those who killed Jesus did not know what they were doing, it is possible that those who offend us do not know what they are doing. Hence the first step Jesus recommends is to go to the person who has hurt you and “tell him his fault between you and him alone.” (Matthew 18:15).
Jesus says that it is only when they do not listen that we should take one or two people (not social media) and only when that fails that we should tell the Church (our pastors) and should this fail, Jesus recommends prayer. “If two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 18:19). If only we follow these steps of Jesus, there would be less fighting and divisions today among Christians and even in our world.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, give me a heart that is big enough to love those who go astray as well as those who offend me. Give me the courage and the wisdom to bring them back to the fold. Amen
Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you.