23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Fr. Francis)
A brief story from the book titled: “The Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes” (p. 28), edited by Clifton Fadiman goes thus. A Roman nobleman died, leaving enormous debts that he had successfully concealed during his lifetime. When the estate was put up for auction, Caesar Augustus instructed his agent to buy the man’s pillow. When some expressed surprise at the order, he explained: “That pillow must be particularly conducive to sleep, if its late owner, in spite of all his debts, could sleep on it”. Debt creates pressure and no one likes pressure.
The readings of today invite us to reflect on our responsibility towards our brothers and sisters. Therefore, the term, “It’s none of my business.” is not biblical, nor is it acceptable in the practice of the Christian life.
Such an expression echoes a passage that we are familiar with from the Book of Genesis where it states, “Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ Abel answered, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?'” [Genesis 4:9]
As parents and caregivers, Christians are responsible and made accountable for the welfare of those under their care, be it their children, grandparents or even friends. Equally, lawyers are responsible and made accountable for their clients. Doctors are responsible and made accountable for their patients. Police Officers, Security Guards and Correctional Officers are responsible and made accountable for their actions of upholding the law. Even Bank Managers are responsible and made accountable for the money deposited by their clients. In each occupation, there is a responsibility and full accountability is required of the individuals.
The Words of God that we have heard today, they did not speak of worldly responsibility and accountability. They spoke of God’s commanded spiritual responsibility and accountability that every one of us has towards our neighbors. The meaning of the word “neighbor” in biblical sense has a greater meaning than just “fellow Jews” or the neighbor next door. It spoke of our responsibility of correcting our brothers and sisters in Christ who live in error. This obligation is nothing new. It has always existed in the Catholic Church, from the early days of the Christian community right up to the present time.
From the Book of Ezekiel, we heard God commanding us to speak on His behalf. As Christians and ministers of the Word of God, through the promise that we have made to God and the Church when we were baptized, we have a responsibility and we are obligated to warn the wicked to turn away from their sinful ways so that they may be saved from spiritual death. If the sinners ignore our pleas to repent, they will suffer eternal damnation. Their damnation will not be because of us; it will be because of their own free choice of having embraced their evil ways, of having rejected the grace of God that was at work through us when we warned them. But us, we have the assurance that we will receive our salvation for having faithfully obeyed and served the Lord God as His messengers.
Just as God appointed Ezekiel as a watchman for the house of Israel, so has he appointed parents to watch over their own house, their family. Like a prophet, their role is to hear from God, to encourage their children, to warn them about sin, and to help them live in a way that pleases the Lord. This call is not limited to parents either. God wants all of us to be looking out for each other. We are called to guard and protect the physical and eternal welfare of our brothers and sisters. Parents are encouraged to pray for their family daily like: “Lord, protect and guide my family. Bless them and protect them from evil. Fill them with your peace and your love.”
During the second reading, St. Paul summed up for man the New Dispensation of the whole Mosaic Law. [Deut. 5:17-21; Lev. 19:18] “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Just before that, he had said, “Owe no one anything.” Why should we owe no one anything? It is because if we do, it can be used as a bargaining tool to silence us. If someone owes us money, we dare not speak of their sin in fear of losing what is owed to us. If we borrowed from someone, we dare not speak of their sin because he might demand immediate repayment. Lending and borrowing are great tools of the evil one to silence those who would otherwise speak up.
But what about God’s command? How will we account to Him for our silence when we tell Him, “I did not want to say anything because he owed me money!” Is the Word of God and our salvation of lesser importance than the wealth of this world that will die?
During today’s Gospel reading, Jesus taught us how to proceed as responsible and accountable spiritual brothers and sisters who are genuinely concerned for the spiritual well-being of others.
First of all, we are obligated to privately approach the sinner so we will not publicly humiliate him or her. If the sinner has sincerely repented, praise God and maintain that privacy afterwards. No one else needs to know of the sins of others to avoid a chain reaction of gossip that will damage the spiritual life of all those who are involved.
If the sinner remains indifferent to his salvation, we have an obligation to meet again, but this time with two or three witnesses. If the individual refuses to listen to all, we are commanded to tell it to the church. And if the offender still refuses to listen, even to the church, let such a person be to us as a Gentile and a tax collector. To the Jewish people, the Gentiles were non-members of the Body of Christ, the tax collectors being disliked. They were avoided.
Why did Jesus say to disassociate from them? It is because when we put a bad fruit among good fruits, the bad fruit corrupts the others. The good fruits begin to take the same shape as the bad fruit. If everyone is indifferent to the sin of one person, that sin becomes acceptable to the extent that soon or later, all are committing the same sin as a norm of Christian life and society.
An example of such corruption has been witnessed over the years in the progressive acceptance of abortions. Allow me to read you a passage from the book, “Surprised by truth”:
“I was shocked to learn that no Protestant denominations had permitted contraception until 1930, when at its Lambert Conference the Anglican Communion announced it no longer viewed it as sinful. Since then, every single Protestant denomination had followed suit. What ensued was the inevitable progression from allowing contraception to allowing abortion.” (Ref: “Surprised by Truth” by Patrick Madrid, Basilica Press, page 247)
The same attitude of indifference and acceptance of sinful ways can be said about other sins that have gradually become acceptable within society by most of the people. These are the sins of divorce, common-law relationships, the practice of homosexuality, lesbianism, same sex marriage, the removal of prayer from the schools, the teaching of evolution in the schools, etc… All of these are perversions of the truth that lead away from God’s Holiness and holy ways.
While some may be hesitant to speak up against the sins of others, saying, “It is none of my business.”, or “They are protected under the Charter of Rights.”, this is not so according to God. As a Christian, we have an obligation to make it our responsibility and we have an obligation to contact our representatives of the Government to ask that the Charter of Rights and the laws be changed to reflect the ways of God. Until such time as it is done, God will condemn us alongside those who live in sin!
This week let us take some time to reflect on our responsibility towards God. Let us reflect on how we will account to God for the actions of those around us, be it our parents, our brothers or sisters, our children, our relatives, our neighbors, our co-workers, our peers, all of those whose life we touch. Let us do what we must do so that when we appear before God on Judgment Day, we will be able to repeat the words of Jesus, “Not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost.” [Jn. 17:12]
Mother Mary, whose birthday we celebrate on 8th of September is the perfect person to lead all of us to Christ her son and help us to live as a true disciple of Jesus. We pray for her intercession and help in our daily live. Amen.
Fr. A. Francis HGN