TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2020)
Readings:Ezekiel 33:7-9Psalms 95:1-2, 6-9Romans 13:8-10Matthew 18:15-20
Confucius would have us believe that we should “See no evil! Speak no evil! Hear no evil!,” for if we follow these simple precepts our lives will be more peaceful. While there may be some truth to what Confucius is saying, it is surely not the approach to life suggested by Jesus and the prophets. Over the course of the last month we have heard from many of the prophets in our first readings – Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, and today Ezekiel – and all of them have eyes, and mouths, and ears, that are not only not covered, but we see them calling out injustice and wrongdoing to such an extent that it hardly makes their lives peaceful.
What we learn from the prophets is that the goal of doing what God desires is not always (almost never) peaceful. Indeed, Jeremiah in last weekend’s first reading, as much as he wanted a peaceful life free of “reproach and derision,” a life where he even tried to tell himself “I will not mention” God, found himself unable to hold in the “fire burning within his heart” and so found himself speaking the Word of God, regardless of the personal cost. Ezekiel is a “watchman for the house of Israel,” and because of his closeness to God, when he hears God speak he is to “warn them for God.” Should Ezekiel cover his ears like the Confucian hear no evil monkey, and decide not to speak God’s word and “dissuade the wicked from their way,” then Ezekiel will be “responsible for their death.” Our first reading admits of the possibility of Ezekiel speaking and the listener still doing nothing to amend their life, but should the listener then be punished, Ezekiel would have no responsibility.
There might appear to be a bit of unfairness to this situation, but the prophets are merely trying to highlight, not only the importance of God’s Word, but also they want to show the importance for those who exercise a prophetic function of speaking God’s word when the situation demands it. For all of us who share in the prophetic dimension of Christ’s priesthood, something that happens with our baptisms, the example of the prophets should be of importance to us. Ezekiel was meant to denounce sin, not the sinner; judging the sinner was God’s task. Ezekiel was meant to save sinners by speaking God’s Word, and a prophet’s task is motivated by the love that is spoken of in our second reading, a love that “does no evil to the neighbor.” As Sr. Mary McGlone reminds us, ”genuine prophecy is motivated by love: of God’s Creation and God’s people, the offended and the offenders alike. In today’s Gospel, Jesus outlines His methodology for dealing with community members who perpetrate evil.”
In Jesus’ approach, our focus belongs on the person, not the offense. There is no shortage of people who in the most hypocritical manner are quick to point out the sliver in someone else’s eye. Many find an advantage in pointing fingers at others, as though drawing attention to someone else will distract people from spending the energy to look at our own faults. Look at the way Jesus deals with the sinners He surrounds Himself with. He doesn’t seek to condemn them, He doesn’t make their healing dependent on any conditions. He invites them to be a part of His all-redeeming love, and His gentleness and patience with them impresses them to follow Him.
Notice Jesus’ gradual and orderly approach towards dealing with those in need of correction. It is very much like what monasteries refer to as fraternal correction, starting out as it does with telling the person, and “him alone,” what his fault is. “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If your friend refuses to listen to you and the others, then “tell the church,” the broader community of believers who might help to discern the veracity of the accusations. “If he refuses to listen to even the church, then treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector,” i.e. like one who stands outside of the church, like one who does not appear to believe in Jesus’ teachings.
There is great wisdom in what Jesus tells His disciples, and it appears that even in His short lifetime He could foresee the challenge of what would divide even His disciples. His measured approach to dealing with those problems assures the respect and dignity for every person, and avoids the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees we see Jesus confront and condemn. There is no room for the destruction of people’s reputations, there is no pointing of fingers, there is no jumping to unfair conclusions. There is only the love which is the “fulfillment of the law;” there is only the primacy of love which is at the heart of everything Jesus teaches.