First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9
Psalm: Psalm 94(95): 1-2, 6-9
Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10
Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
It is always easier to mind one’s business and refrain from interfering in the lives of others. In fact, sometimes you are reminded outrightly when in attempt to correct, you get the warning - ‘it is none of your business, or don’t be nosy.’ Even as Christians if we choose to mind our business, we will have less troubles with people especially in our modern world where society permits everyone to choose to do whatever suits them and call it their right. So, in the modern mind my choice is my right, and everyone should respect it and I must not be denied whatever I choose to do no matter how it affects others, even if it hurts. Therefore, the logic of our time is live and let’s live…mind your business while I mind mine and let us all be happy. But is this the model of God?
When everyone minds their own business and show no concern for others, we all become incurably individualistic and selfish. It is in this light that our readings today run contrary to this model of operation, reminding us of the social dimension of our lives as humans. Anthropologically too we are social beings which makes us inevitably relational by nature. So, we are beings with others and not beings alone. That is why John Donne, one of English finest poets famously wrote that “No man is an island entire of itself.” This means that as human beings we need the company of others to thrive, to realise ourselves and fulfil our purpose, and so long as we inhabit the same planet and human society, we have a spiritual responsibility and accountability for others in our families and in the communities we find ourselves. Whatever we do has consequences not just for us alone but most importantly for those around us. When we do something good it affects the whole society positively; it glorifies God, elevates the dignity of our brothers and sisters around us, and sanctifies us as well. In the same vein when we do something evil, it affects society negatively; it mocks God, and denigrates the dignity of our brothers and sisters around us and debases us. The current covid-19 pandemic is just but another reminder of our shared humanity. What began in the small Chinese town of Wuhan has now spread across the globe affecting every continent of the world. So, just like the covid-19 virus, the holiness of the entire society is harmed by a singular act of evil just the same way a single good act reinforces the holiness of the entire society in a no less remarkable measure. The onus then lies on each of us to act good and ensure that our brothers and sisters also act good so that the society becomes better for all. Hence it is not strange that today God addressing the prophet Ezekiel reminds us of our co-responsibility for the actions and inactions of others.
Therefore, I can no longer shrug off the sins and failures of people around me as no concern of mine. I can no longer say ‘it is none of my business’; that is indifferentism, and it is the very opposite of good. Like Ezekiel we as Children of God by our baptism are also put as sentries wherever we find ourselves, to take responsibility for the spiritual welfare of our societies and become each other’s “keepers.” Ask yourself, are you being your brother’s or sister’s keeper, or do you rejoice over their failures and mistakes? Today we are charged to awaken the consciousness of people around us and save them from spiritual damnation by being the moral voice of the society that denounces evil in all its forms and calls the fallen and sinful back to the right path through fraternal correction. For God says, “If you do not speak to the wicked man, I will hold you responsible for his death (Ezekiel 33:8).” It is to reinforce this same teaching that Christ in the gospel lays down for us the process for fraternal correction.
As beings of relationship who live in social units, beginning with the family we cannot deny that there are bound to be misunderstandings and disagreements from time to time amongst us. What is important is to sort them out and not to let them fester. And it is Christ who offers us the spiritual freedom and power for restoring these broken relationships. His model is to confront sin headlong and help must be offered the one in the wrong to restore a damaged relationship. We must not turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to evil, for such neglect is indifferentism, and it is a grave sin against God. We must condemn evil in all its forms and correct the erring. The aim of fraternal correction is not to belittle or castigate the person at fault but to make him or her see their error and retrace their steps to do things right once again.
The first step is to go and speak directly but privately to the individual who is in the wrong. This means brooding over our grievance and gossiping about the wrongs of our brothers and sisters on the social media is not the way of the Lord, neither is it the solution. The second step comes in if the first step has failed, and that is to bring one or more persons with us to persuade the offender to see the wrong and be reconciled. If this fails, the third step is to seek the help of the Christian community (the Church). The Christian community can pray and seek a varied solution for reconciliation based on the Christian principles of love and wisdom rather than a lawsuit. If this does not bring about reconciliation, the fourth and the last step is to treat the offender as a Gentile and tax collector.
Why did Christ choose Gentiles and tax collectors as a yardstick? These were people considered by the Jews as the worst sinners and regarded as “unclean” and incapable of receiving salvation. But Christ dined and wined with them, and even praised them at times. Treating someone as a Gentile or tax collector as Christ taught us is not to condemn but to show love even to someone who by his or her choice has excommunicated himself or herself from the assembly and is considered as having nothing in common with us. When we do that to notorious sinners and offenders, we are abandoning them to God’s loving mercy without judging them but with the hope of welcoming and reconciling with them whenever they come back ready to receive from God pardon, healing and restoration into God’s family. Just as Christ did not give up on anybody, we must also not give up on anyone no matter how stubborn and notorious, because the call to accountability is inevitable.
Christ concludes by reminding us of the power the Church has when she comes together to speak with one voice in His name. However, despite His continuous presence with us in the Church, we will not be immune from problems because we are just imperfect beings. He knows this and that is why today He teaches us the steps in effecting correction. Because you that is in the right today can be in the wrong tomorrow and vice versa. Nevertheless, if we follow His model to apply fraternal correction, we can always solve our differences no matter what they may be. And it is not possible to correct fraternally except we are able to keep that first and most important commandment as St. Paul reminds us in the second reading – the debt of mutual love. This is what we owe each other, so when we love our neighbours as ourselves then we can be able to see ourselves in them and see in them the image of God even in their weakness and fallen state. It is only then that we can condemn the evil we see, correct one another in love, and be humble to accept correction when we are wrong. Therefore, let him that thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Cor.10:12). May the Lord give us the grace to be charitable and courageous enough to confront and correct evil, and the humility and openness to accept correction when we are wrong. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.