Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: EZ 33:7-9 Second Reading: ROM 13: 8-10 Gospel: MT 18: 15-20
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another…” (ROM 13: 8-10)
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” We hear these words, for the first time, in Genesis (GN 4:9) when God confronts Cain regarding his brother, Abel. Cain’s response was an attempt to deny his role in Abel’s murder. Of course, God saw right through that. In today’s scriptures, we have a different spin on that same question. We are called to contemplate whether we are, indeed, our brother’s/sister’s keeper.
In the first reading, we are told that if we do not counsel our neighbor regarding his/her sinful lifestyle, we will be held accountable “...when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me…if you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.” (EZ 33: 7-9) That doesn’t seem fair. What business is it of mine how that neighbor conducts his/her life? It is very likely that I will be told to MYOB…keep my nose out of that person’s affairs.
The second reading tells us that we “owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” (ROM 13: 8-10) At first glance, that might seem a bit contradictory. Are we to love our neighbor or admonish our neighbor? Love does not preclude the need for admonishment. Think of a parent-child relationship. Parents admonish their children all the time. It doesn’t diminish the level of their love. In fact, it is precisely because they love them that they must teach them the right way. If we, then, believe that the most important thing in a person’s life is to gain eternal salvation and we clearly see that someone is courting danger and putting their soul in peril, what are we to do? If we truly love that person, as God expects us to, then, we have an obligation to intervene and try to put that person on the right path; to save their soul. Would you watch a person drowning and refuse to throw them a life preserver? Would you not feel an obligation to at least try to save them?
To admonish the sinner is a Spiritual Work of Mercy. We might think, “Well, who am I to judge whether a person is a sinner?” Admittedly, this is a delicate and difficult situation. Our contemporary world does not make it easy. In some respects, the modern world has eroded the values of right and wrong. The prevailing attitude is, if it isn’t hurting anyone, what’s the harm? It seems there are no longer any absolutes when it comes to behavior. There is a loss of a sense of sin. Sin has become a dirty word for all the wrong reasons. Yet, we know that sin and evil do exist. Should we not take some responsibility to condemn it? What is the work of social justice if not to fight against sin and evil?
Of course, caution must be taken that we do not become self-righteous. We should look, first, at our own failings and practice what we preach. We can follow the example of Jesus to love the sinner but hate the sin. Jesus never ignored sin. He always acted in love. Jesus affirmed that which was good, right and just and condemned that which was harmful or destructive. His desire was that everyone enter his kingdom. We are all familiar with the expression, “all that is needed for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.” Perhaps we are not courageous enough to confront issues of sin, especially on an intimate level, person-person. We should, then, at the very least, serve as models for righteous living. We can witness to the saving words of the gospel and encourage those who struggle in life. We should pray for the conversion of sinners. We should, as Jesus did, affirm that which is good and life-giving and condemn the evil and darkness in this world. We are reminded in scripture that to gain the world but lose our soul is useless. If it is our goal to find eternal happiness with God and to help others do the same, then, we must, indeed, be our brother’s/sister’s keepers.
Pat O’Malley, Associate