CALLED TO BE WATCHMEN!!!
Today, the twenty third Sunday of ordinary time, the holy mother church reminds us of our responsibility to towards one another and our society. Most importantly, she reminds us that dialogue and mutual love is the best method of to promote reconciliation.
In the first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, he was told by the Lord to correct others but he did not want to do it. Nobody is perfect. We all have our weaknesses and mistakes. We are sinners. This is the reality of our human nature. It is sad to note, however, that there are now many people who believe that there is no more sin. This is the fruit of what Pope Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.” He said, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” Relativism says that there is no objective right and wrong that equally applies to everyone.. Instead, the only thing that matters is what each individual feels is right and wrong for him.
The prophet Ezekiel is the watchman of Israel, and he receives a stern warning from God: “When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked, you must die,’ and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood” (Ez 33:8). God is saying to him bluntly: if you do not tell others their faults, then you are responsible for their deaths. This is really strong language—and yet so needed today. God reminds us through Prophet Ezekiel, that we have a responsibility towards one another. This is especially, with regards to counseling and warning others of the consequences of their actions in other to save them. It takes love to warn, counsel or advice someone. So, we are to do this with love.
That we have a responsibility towards others, also presupposes that there are consequences when we fail to honour our responsibilities towards others. Therefore, the Lord says: “I will hold you responsible.” It Beloved it is our bounded duty to seek to correct others in love. We must endeavour to speak out, to counsel, and even to warn our brothers and sisters, children, friends and relatives when they are clearly on the wrong path. Sometimes, when we show apathy towards the moral, spiritual and cultural decay in our time the effects are often enormous, and it affects not just ourselves but also the community, the family and the fabric of society at large. So, the onus lies on us to be our brother’s keeper. This is what God is saying.
It must be noted that often we are desire to refrain from correcting our brother or sister that is in the wrong. Sometimes, it is because we are afraid to lose their friendships that we rather turn a blind eyes to their shortcomings, or we are afraid that we will be called names, or be accused of being holier than thou! God is saying to us that if we allow apathy to rule us then we will be held accountable for the shortcomings of others. We will be guilty of complicity or even aiding and abetting.
Furthermore, we should appreciate the motive behind why God wants us to correct others especially when they are in the wrong. He does not delight in the death of the sinner, and hence He desires that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. As children of His, we ought to participate in bringing others into the fold; participating in God's redeeming work. We cannot continue with a “live and let live” morality by which we can avoid any conflicts but also avoid talking about what is right and what is wrong, especially on issues that are controversial or not too popular, viz, issues on morality, politics, business, faith and practice etc. As the famous saying goes, “The only thing a good man needs to do for evil to triumph is to keep quiet.”
Criticism is important for our growth, criticism however that is motivated out of care and concern. Coaches criticize their athletes. Teachers, good teachers, criticize their students. All who want to excel and grow actually welcome and even seek out constructive and loving criticism. Receiving loving criticism is one of the great benefits we receive when we belong to others in mutual, shared living. God’s blessings come to us in that way.
When it comes to living out life with others problems inevitably result. Selfish Individualism, egoism, and the lust to control others can surface. Such was the case in early Christian communities. Such is still the case today. Factions, backbiting, jealousies can be found in our parish families as well as in our own personal families. Cynicism, disillusionment, loss of trust, worm their way into our parish lives. Much of the content of St. Paul’s epistles is directed at such things, along with suggestions he made on how to resolve differences. Because he loved them he did not hesitate to correct them. Owe no man anything except to love one another. We must seek to act now and always with love towards others.
So we come to today’s Gospel from Saint Matthew. Jesus teaches us in the Gospel about fraternal correction – how to correct an erring brother and bring him back to the path of salvation. Underlying the whole thing should be genuine love or charity, for as St. Paul says in the second reading: “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.” The challenge is: how to bring about reconciliation with a deep awareness of the truth of the situation. All of us must learn that we offend others at times, that we misjudge others at times, that we take advantage of others at times. If we can come to recognize our own brokenness and lack of love towards others, then we will find it much easier to deal with the brokenness and lack of love in others.
In the gospel, Jesus gives us the principles of reconciliation. This means that conflicts are inevitable, they must come. They are inevitable in relationships, in families, and in communities. However, the question is how do we resolve them amicably? Suffice to note that at the center of Jesus’ principle is, dialogue. Ability to counsel and talk over issues, to see things from the perspective of others or, the ability to empathize with others.
Criticism that is harsh, negative, and belittling defeats the very purpose of Christian living. It is damaging not only to the one criticized but also undermines what Jesus is all about. He seeks growth, not diminishment. He wants to build us up, not put us down. How sad it is to see one Christian group belittling or condemning other Christian groups. How sad it is to see one Christian spouse belittling or condemning his or her wife or husband. Tearing down is not building up the Christian family. Why would anyone who is thinking about becoming a Christian want to join us if they are seeing that in how we relate to others?
Christ gives us a three-dimensional principle of reconciliation. The first step is quite important: “If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone..” In short, we must be careful not to malign his reputation by revealing his defects or sins to others without serious reason. After all, “love does no evil to the neighbor.” Then, seek the mediation of a good friend, and finally, seek the mediation of our community or family if he/she still has not repented. As Christians, how do we resolve our problems today? Take a pound of flesh from the other, or go straight to the court of law? We must take note of the three basic steps that Christ gives us today.
And if in the end, despite all efforts to dissuade him from his sinful ways, the erring brother remains unrepentant and defiant, the Lord instructs the community to “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” That means treating him as an outsider. This action should be seen not as a punitive measure but as a charitable way to help him realize his mistake, and return to the Lord with humble and contrite heart. Jesus seems to say that we have the right to abandon stubborn and obdurate offenders and treat them like social outcasts. The tax-collectors and Gentiles were regarded as "unclean" by the religious-minded Jews and they resorted to shunning them. However we know from the Gospel accounts also that Jesus often had fellowship with tax-collectors (as well as other public sinners), ate with them, and even praised them at times! Jesus refuses no one who is open to receive pardon, healing, and restoration.
Conclusively, as Christians, we are all God's prophets, God's representatives, God’s watchmen, set on elevated places to give warning of approaching danger to our brothers and sisters. The prophets of all times have a grave responsibility for their people's salvation. None of us can retire from the task of being watchmen.
Prayer - Lord make me an instrument of your love and reconciliation. May I be gentle and loving in correcting others and patient with those who hurt. May love be my guiding principle especially in my relationship with others. Amen!