Read Ezekiel 33:7-9, Ps. 95:1-2,6-9, Romans 13:8-10, 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 to 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 soul. Nevertheless, in correcting them, we must do it with a spirit of love because, as St. Paul says, love is the only debt we owe others. Meanwhile, Jesus gives us the steps 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 indifferent; they don’t care. You have heard the statement: “Mind your business,” especially when attempting to speak up against evil, injustice, or crime. Today, the Word of God to Ezekiel teaches us that we become collaborators by minding our business (when it comes to evil).

Silence is golden, but sometimes silence becomes an endorsement of evil. If we see a brother or sister going down 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 would not 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 to them. He eventually landed in prison when he told Herod 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 sold our conscience by collecting bribes from those in power? When will we realize that worshipping God goes beyond merely trying to make people feel good? It is easy to point fingers at priests and religious for not condemning the government in their sermons, 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. Today's responsorial psalm flips the coin 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's face it: none of us likes to be told the truth, but if we consider ourselves perfect, how 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. Still, 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 pointing out their sins.

We live in the age St. Paul wrote, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears, they will accumulate teachers to suit their 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 to bring them back to the fold but a different thing altogether to condemn someone out of hatred or pride. In other words, without love, we could 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).

We cannot pretend about love. When our correction is not motivated by love, we push them further away instead of winning back a brother or sister. Moreover, when there is hatred against someone, we become blind to everything good in them. We see only negatives; we even see problems where there are no problems. 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. 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. If you must involve social media in your attempt to correct someone, know that you may 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.
We often only try to reconcile with those we know we have offended, but Jesus asks us to do more. He says that when a brother sins against us 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.

Jesus tells us that we should never hold any grudge against anyone. Very often, what happens is that when someone offends us, we bottle it up in our hearts, even if the person is not even aware we are angry, and our anger soon boils up into full-blown hatred. In that person's presence, we pretend to be friendly, but behind their backs, we destroy them, and should we ever get an opportunity to avenge, we unleash our hatred like an atomic bomb. This behaviour may be common even among Christians but 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 offended 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 should we 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: Almighty, ever-living God, give me a heart big enough to love those who go astray and offend me. Give me the courage and the wisdom to return them to the fold. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Bible Study: Ezekiel 33:7-9, Ps. 95:1-2,6-9, Romans 13:8-10, Matthew 18:15-20).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu