Ezekiel 33:7-9 Psalm 95 Romans 13:8-10 Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said, “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” This is one of the tough parts about being a disciple of Jesus -- admitting that we are, in fact, our brother’s keeper. It is contrary to message the world gives. The world says that truth is relative - so mind your own business. However, the Word of God tells us otherwise. In the first reading, the Lord tells the prophet Ezekiel that he is responsible for speaking the word of correction. And if he doesn’t speak the word of correction, then he is held responsible for his neighbor’s downfall. You and I have a responsibility for one another.
Jesus’ instruction is clear and so simple. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” And yet, this is very hard. When we are offended, our tendency is to gossip about it with our friends. Or post it on Facebook. Think about it — does gossip ever resolve problems? Gossip creates distrust and more animosity. Unfortunately, we love to gossip - mostly because gossip makes us feel a little bit superior to those other people. It seems easier than dealing with the problem. Gossip never solves problems.
So let’s make a little promise to ourselves today. When we get offended by somebody, let’s ask the Lord to shut our mouths until we can say only what will actually help somebody. When we approach our neighbor with humility and compassion, we can have a real conversation. Usually when we can have that kind of conversation, we solve the problem. Dealing with things in a simple and private way achieves the best possible solution.
But it doesn’t always work. So Jesus shows us how to deal with somebody step by step. “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you…” This approach reminds us of how to do an intervention with somebody who has a problem with substance abuse. The small group assures the person of their love, describes the problem behavior, and then with compassion invites the person to get the help they need for change.
But that doesn’t always work either. So Jesus shows us the next step. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.” Which doesn’t mean announcing somebody’s sin in the parish bulletin. Or on Facebook. It does mean widening the circle of Christians to lovingly come to the person and attempt fraternal correction. Sometimes it takes repetition through more people to get the message across.
But that doesn’t always work either. So Jesus shows us the next step. “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Jesus shows us how to do this part really well. He was constantly reaching out to Gentiles and tax collectors, inviting them to repentance with a gentleness and compassion that is amazing. His love and mercy is immense, and he calls us to follow him in this.
Fraternal correction is such an important skill for us to learn as disciples of Jesus. Imagine the consequences if we don’t practice correction. Parents learn this very quickly with raising children. Kids need to be trained in good behavior. And kids need to be corrected for bad behavior. Most of the time, positive affirmation works wonders. But correction of bad behavior is also essential. In this case, Jesus’ model is best. Out of respect for the dignity of our children, we take care of problems privately and quietly, rather than shaming our children in front of others. The good parent is always attentive to guiding their children toward becoming the best version of themselves. Imagine the terrible consequences if parents didn’t practice correction.
When we think about it, the ministry of correction is essential within our families, within our communities, and within society as a whole. If we do not give loving attention to one another, then any of us can easily stray. And when many people wander from what is right and good, then we have big problems. Today we are facing systemic evil in society and in the world. What can we do when faced with this terrible need the world has for correction and cleansing?
1. Give thanks and praise to God every day. We are a Eucharistic people. It is right to give thanks and praise. Giving thanks and praise to God changes our perspective, and makes us able to see the work of God in others and in ourselves.
2. Acknowledge our sinfulness. Jesus said that if you want to pull the splinter out of your brother’s eye, take the plank out of your own eye first. Let’s resolve to make a daily examination of conscience and to go to confession on a regular basis. When we humbly acknowledge our sins and our daily need for a savior, it leads us to humility and gratitude.
3. Be concerned for others. The attitude of loving concern fulfills the command of the Lord to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is only with an attitude of love and humility that we can correct the fault of another individual or work on correcting the fault within society. Anger and harshness wins no one over. The Christian approach is to correct, not crush the spirit of another person. It does take courage to speak up. It takes civility to find the right words to say. And it takes charitableness to have the right attitude.
Imagine, brothers and sisters, if Catholics were truly united in addressing the problems of evil in the world. In the United States there are 60 million people who say they are Roman Catholic. In Marion County, nearly 10,000 people, claim to be Catholic, and most all claim to be Christian. What a powerful voice for good we can be when we are united by the Holy Spirit. What a voice for good so many already are. There are many untold stories of hearts converted through the countless good works of so many individuals. Conversion really does happen one heart at a time, beginning with our own. And one heart at a time, our community, our nation, and our world can be changed.
We can pray for this. The Lord encourages us to do so. And the Lord who encourages us will surely answer our prayer. Remember then, this promise from our Lord to us today. “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.”