for the readings of today's mass for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time "A", go to
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time "A" Mt. 18: 15-20, also Ezekiel 33: 7-9
In our first Reading, God appoints Ezekiel as a watchman for his people, but He adds a threat. If Ezekiel does not warn sinners to mend their ways, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for their fate.
The question is - did God intend this just for Ezekiel? Or was He saying this to all of us? Many of the great saints— like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas - thought that God’s command to Ezekiel also applies to each one of us. They said that part of the responsibility of every Christian was to watch out for one another like the way Ezekiel was told by God.
But the thought of that is rather daunting. Am I supposed to be a kind of holy busybody, continually nagging other people about their sins? Because there is nothing more annoying than a self-righteous person who with great relish keeps on pointing out the sins of others. And then in our gospel Jesus takes it one step further – not only does He tells us to confront people who sin against us, he even gives a rather detailed outline of the steps to do so. For those of us who try to avoid conflict like the plague, this teaching is like a nightmare come true. However, some of you might say – hold on, Father – there is a big contrast what we heard in our first reading and gospel with what Jesus previously said in Matthew 7, regarding the hypocrisy of judging and accusing others of sin, when you yourself are a sinner. And you would be right in saying that. For there is a big disparity. You will recall in Matthew 7 that Jesus uses a rather funny analogy of trying to remove the speck from your brother’s eye, while ignoring the reality of the large logs of sin stuck in your own eye. So how do we reconcile all this? What are we supposed to do?
Well, first we need to consider a basic fact. Hardly any sins are private sins – very few are just between me and God. Virtually all of our sins affect a lot of other people as well. (give the example of the 1st reconciliation child). So there may be times that yes, while we may not have our act together, and yes, there may be more than a few logs sticking in our own eyes, we still need to challenge others when their sins are not just hurting themselves, but others. At times we are going to have to be like Ezekiel, and at times we are going to have to confront others as Jesus tells us. But we are going to have to be quite wise with the tone of the voice we use as well as the attitude with which we address them. Otherwise, things could get nasty.
But we also need to remember that there is more than one way to communicate with others. If you are a person who is really trying to live out the teachings of our faith, and doing so in love and service to the Lord, the example of your life will tell a story to everyone who crosses your path. Remember the instruction of St. Francis of Assisi to his followers: “Preach the gospel always – and when necessary, use words”. Preach the gospel with the example of your life.
So when St. Francis was asked about the passage from Ezekiel that we heard in our First Reading, he said,
“The life of a Christian should burn with holiness so brightly that by the light of example and the tongue of his conduct, he will rebuke all the wicked.”
Your life can bear witness to the goodness of the Lord and the holiness of his commandments. You don’t have to use words to do so.
Clean up our act first, as we heard in Matthew 7. And when that happens, our correction of others will be done with much more integrity. But remember this - no matter what the state of our act may be, one day we will have to answer to God about the way we took care of ourselves – and, the way we watched out for one another.