Ezekiel 33:7-9/Psalms 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9/Romans 13:8-10/Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20
******We have three sets of homily notes here. Please scroll down the page.******
Fr Galadima Bitrus, OSA
TELLING THE TRUTH IN LOVE AND LOVING IN TRUTH
In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical letter entitled, “Caritas in Veritate” (Love in Truth), in which he emphasized the Christian vocation to love without renouncing the vocation to defend the truth. He considered defending the truth, announcing it with humility and conviction and bearing witness to it in life, as necessary and non-substitutable ways of loving (see Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, no.1).
Today, the readings call our attention to this prophetic vocation of ours to tell and defend the truth as a service of love, and the need to tell the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15).
In the 1st Reading (Ezekiel 33:7-9; see also 3:17-21), the Lord declares the prophet to be a watchman of the house of Israel, whose responsibility is to transmit God’s warning and to speak, warning the doer of evil that he may turn back from his wicked way and live, or die for his sins. As a watchman, the prophet is held responsible for the fate of the wicked if he does not warn them.
Thus, the prophetic responsibility to speak the truth and warn the wicked against evil is a service of love, not only to the community in which the wicked lives but also to the wicked person him/herself since it is a call to repent and live. For unless the doer of wickedness turns away from it, he shall surely die.
A prophet, therefore, does disservice to the wicked him/herself if he does not speak up against the wickedness of the wicked and warn them so that they repent and live; he also incurs God’s wrath upon himself and is held responsible for the fate of the wicked. As Pope Benedict XVI rightly expressed, therefore, the prophetic duty to speak the truth is a necessary and non-substitutable way of loving; it is an indispensable act of charity. As such, love can be considered as the fulfillment and fullness of prophecy.
In the 2nd Reading (Romans 13:8-10), love is identified as the fulfillment and the fullness of the law: “For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Rm 8:8b); “Love is the fullness of the Law” (Rm 8:10).
Love, therefore, is the spirit of the law and the prophecy; it is the soul of all the commandments of God given to Moses and of the prophetic ministry. It must animate our following the law and our exercise of the prophetic vocation to tell the truth and warn the wicked against wickedness.
In the Gospel Reading (Matthew 18:15-20), Jesus exhorts his disciples to embrace the virtue of fraternal correction seriously, doing all that is necessary to correct and so win back an erring brother or sister. This is a form of the prophetic responsibility to speak the truth against the wrongdoer and to speak such truth in love.
The first step of speaking this truth in love demands absolute confidence when confronting an erring brother: “go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (v.15b). If this does not win back the erring brother, a second step is to be taken: “take one or two others along with you” (v. 16). If this fails too, a third step involving the believing community is to be taken (v.17).
Note that all these steps aim at winning back or regaining the erring brother to right conduct. The guiding principle, therefore, is love of the brother or sister. If the brother or sister proves to be incorrigible, Jesus exhorts the offended disciple to let him/her be like a Gentile and a tax collector (v.17c).
Now, the question is, how are we supposed to treat gentiles and tax collectors? Interpretations differ on this. Some interpreters understand it to mean ex-communication of the incorrigible brother or sister from the believing community. However, the exhortation is to a singular addressee (the offended person: let him be to thee), soliciting a personal attitude and not a community disciplinary measure that ex-communication presupposes.
Others think that the offended person should have nothing to do with the incorrigible brother or sister. This is also problematic given that Jesus himself never avoids relating with Gentiles and tax collectors. Rather, he acts towards them tenderly and does not have high moral and spiritual expectations on them as he would of his own followers.
As we find in Mt 5:43-48, Jesus exhorts his disciples to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors, else, they would be just like tax collectors and Gentiles who are also capable and do in fact love only those who love them and greet only their own brothers and sisters. In Mt 6:7, the disciples of Jesus are exhorted not to pray by heaping up words like the Gentiles do, thinking they will be heard by their many words.
Therefore, the disciples are not to be of lower moral standard or of shallow spirituality like the Gentiles and tax collectors. To ask them to consider an incorrigible brother or sister as a Gentile and tax collector is, therefore, an exhortation not to be like them, that is, not to love only those who love us and greet only those who are our sisters and brothers. In other words, the disciples are not to descend low to their standard of conduct. We are not to go low with them.
Jesus goes further to assure the disciples of the power of reconciliation effected between them. Heaven upholds it: “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven…; …if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:18-20).
The readings today, therefore, help us to understand our prophetic duty to speak the truth and to correct our erring and wrongdoing brothers and sisters not indifferently but with love. We must be motivated not by hateful anger towards them or by a desire to embarrass the wrongdoer but by love for them, by the single purpose to have them turn away from wrongdoing or wickedness to right conduct, that they may live.
Have a Spirit-filled Sunday and a blessed week!
Fr. Paul Oredipe
FRATERNAL CORRECTION IN LOVE AND PRAYER
Compared to many other gospel readings, the gospel of today seems rather simple, clear and straightforward – if you have a problem with a brother or a sister, go to that person and resolve it. It is also a very practical message.
Then Jesus goes on – just in case that does not work, bring some witnesses along. And if even that does not work, refer the matter to the Church, and if even that does not work, then let the person go – be civil and treat the person civilly but move on. Then Jesus goes on to talk about gathering with others in His name and knowing His presence with them.
Jesus lays out a whole process that we might go through in order to resolve differences that we might have with another person. Certainly it is good that we are reminded to go to the other person first. So often we reverse the process Jesus recommends. We tell the world first, and think about going to the individual only much later.
When others wrong us why is it so difficult to go to them and try to build peace? Why is it so much easier to tell everybody else about it?
Here our Lord calls on us to work with Him for the sanctification of others by means of fraternal correction, which is one of the ways we can do so. He speaks as sternly about the sin of omission as He did about that of scandal.
There is an obligation on us to correct others. Yet correction is never easy and can be embarrassing as it may carry with it the risk of losing established relationship. Our Lord identifies three stages in correction: 1) alone; 2) in the presence of one or two witnesses; and 3) before the Church.
Jesus told this parable precisely because He was being accused of spending too much time with the publicans and the sinners. So He wanted people to know that He never gives up on anyone. So there is mercy in a sense that if you are a publican or a sinner or a pagan or a tax collector, Jesus will still come looking for you and so must the Church. We are responsible for one another.
The first lesson today reminds us of how important it is that we work for this healing in the Church. Ezekiel reminds us that everyone of us has to be a prophet and that our Church has to be prophetic. Ezekiel was ready to give up prophesying. He had been preaching and the people paid no attention. Jeremiah had been preaching and they paid no attention. And Jeremiah, as we learned in the lesson last Sunday, wanted to give up, but the word of God was burning in his heart and he could not proclaim it.
And Ezekiel wanted to give up, but God tells him, “No, you must be the watchman. You must keep proclaiming the message.” And our Church has to be that prophetic Church. And that is why it is so important for us to be healed, so that we can proclaim God’s word. We are at a point in our history as a nation, this is so clear, where our Church must be a prophetic Church.
Today’s lessons teach us that we must be very careful about how we correct others. Sometimes it will be necessary, but it must always be done in love. In the words of Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross: “Don’t accept anything as truth if it is without love. And don’t accept anything as love if it is without truth. One without the other becomes a destructive lie.”
God charged the prophet Ezekiel with teaching the people that they must change their ways. Their sinful ways were leading them away from God. He told them that they will be swallowed up by the powerful nations and be swept away if they don’t change. Ezekiel, like most prophets, was not finding his audience very receptive. He wanted to stop preaching.
The second lesson of humanity is that most people do not like being confronted. Naturally, if I have done something wrong, I would prefer to catch it myself. I do not like having someone tell me that I was wrong or that I did not do something the way that I was supposed to. Yet, all of us have blind spots. Sometimes we do not see that we are doing something that harms others. The only way we will change is by having someone tell us.
Jesus gives a loving way to confront others. He tells us, “When you have been offended go to the person alone.” Work out your difficulty with that individual. If the person is obstinate or unwilling to see that what they have done is wrong, then bring a witness along. This person is primarily there to listen, not to gang up on the other person. They are to be a mediator. Usually having a third person allows each individual to examine their own prejudices and see the other person’s side of the story more clearly. Sometimes even that approach doesn’t work. So, then you bring it to the Church.
St. Paul reminds us that the best way we can be in harmony to others is to owe no one a debt but that in love. If I love you, I will not try to harm you. May be the reason we find it so hard to work out problems is that we do not love one another.
Jesus says that the admonishment should take place privately to give the person the chance to defend himself and explain his actions in complete freedom. Many times what appears to an outside observer to be a sin is not in the intention of the person who committed it. A frank explanation clears up many misunderstandings. But this is no longer possible when the person is publicly redressed and the incident brought to the awareness of others.
When, for whatever reason, fraternal correction is not possible in private, there is something that must never be done in its place, and that is to divulge, without good reason, one’s brother’s fault, to speak ill of him or, indeed, to calumniate him, proposing as fact something that is not, or exaggerating the fault. “Do not speak ill of one another,” Scripture says (James 4:11). Gossip is not something innocent; it is ugly and reprehensible.
The Spaniards say: “Whoever gossips to you, will gossip of you.”
Italians say: “The tongue has no bones, but it can break your back.”
The Chinese say: “God gave a man two ears and only one mouth. Why don’t we listen twice as much as we talk?”
Gossip: One day someone ran up to the ancient wise man Socrates and whispered: “Socrates, listen to this bit of juicy gossip about a friend of yours.” “Wait!” quickly answered the wise man. “Have you first passed that gossip through the three filters?” “What three filters?” “Yes, my friend, three filters. Now let us see whether the gossip you want to tell me passes through those filters.”
“The first filter is truth. Are you sure that what you are going to tell me is the truth?” “Well,” stuttered the man, “actually I heard the story secondhand.” “Hmmm,” answered Socrates. “Let’s go on to the second filter and see if your story will pass through it. Is what you are going to tell me, kind?” “Not exactly,” said the informer. “In fact it is just the opposite.” “So that takes care of filter number two. Now tell me, third filter: is it necessary?” “Hardly.” “Well, if what you want to tell me, is neither true nor kind nor necessary, skip it.”
Love is the one thing that cannot hurt our neighbour. It is worth remembering that none of us is perfect, so when we point out the faults of others, we should be prepared to hear about our own. Christ’s teaching about fraternal correction must always be read together with what He says on another occasion: “Why do you regard the speck in your brother’s eye and ignore the bean in your own? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’ when you do not see the beam that is in yours” (Luke 6:41)
It is not easy in individual cases to know whether it is better to correct something or let it go, speak or be silent. This is why it is important to remember the Golden Rule, valid in all cases that St. Paul offers in the second letter: “Owe each other nothing but the debt of mutual love. […] Love does evil to no one.” Augustine synthesized everything in the maxim, “Love and do what you will.”
At the end of the gospel, Jesus adds an essential element to the work of correcting one another: communal prayer. Often we do not feel much like praying together when we have been offended. We are preoccupied with irritation and also retaliation. But we need prayer. Without prayer, we cannot hope to correct another in love.
Prayer invites God into the midst of the dispute – and where we allow God to reign, everything is possible. When we pray, God gives us His Spirit of love, so that we can overcome the power of sin and fulfill our vocation to love one another. Where God reigns, love reigns. “Love never does any wrong to the neighbour; hence love is the fulfillment of the law”
As we are told in Matt 5:23-24 “If you are offering a gift at the altar and on the way find that your neighbour has something against you, first go and be reconciled with your neighbour and then come and offer your gift.”
And so it is that when Christians meet together in the name of Christ for the purpose of prayer, our Lord is present among them, pleased to listen to the unanimous prayer of His disciples. “All those with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” (Acts 1:14). This is why the Church from the very beginning has practiced communal prayer (cf. Acts 12:5).
I believe we all are guilty of being gossip mongers, males and females alike. Let us ask the Lord to forgive us for this sin and ask Him to take control of our tongues that we may speak words that build up others and not tear them down.
As we hear in today’s Psalm, “O that today you would listen to his voice, harden not your hearts.” Our faith calls us to action. Our action can make a wonderful opportunity to go to work in our lives and in the lives of those who have harmed us.
May we not miss any opportunity we might be given to bring someone closer to God and reconciliation. As we hear in today’s Gospel, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Let us be ready to get involved.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Daniel Evbotokhai
The Gospel speaks of the method the early Christians developed in order to deal with internal conflicts and with members who erred. It expresses the role of dialogue and the need for consensus at all times. The first and seconding readings continued with this theme. While Ezekiel says we must speak to the wicked to repent Paul says love is the rule that must guide all our actions. However, the gospel reading accepts that this is not always possible and so it left us with the consequences therein.
Beloved in Christ, we must accept that dealing with internal conflicts and with erring members of the Christian body is not always easy. It is even more difficult in this relativistic time, where truth has become subjective; where our advice risks rejection and our care easily misconstrued. In the face of this difficulty, we charged to be responsible for one another. What do I do when I notice others losing their way? Do you make sincere attempts at correcting a brother or a friend? Or what is your motive when you correct a brother? Is it to humiliate him or to expose his ignorance? St Paul says in the second reading that love should be the reason for our actions. He points out that all obligations are summed up in a single commandment: love your neighbor as yourself. Therefore, love should be the reason for reconciliation. For love, God gave his only begotten son to reconcile the world to himself. We must understand this love and practice it sincerely and truly.
1 Cor 13:4-7 brings out the complex nature of love. Love is patient. Am I patient with people? Love is kind. Am I kind towards people? Love is not arrogant. Am I arrogant? Or what is my attitude towards correction? Love is not irritable. Am I irritated by instruction of advice? Love is not boastful. Am I boastful of my gifts and talent and so listen to no one? Love does not rejoice in what is wrong. Do I delight in evil and see no reason to change?
Christians today must embrace fraternal correction. Nobody is perfect. Where two or three are gathered, misunderstanding is inevitable. Your response towards correction shows your personality. Beloved, if you are corrected harden not your heart. What we need is tolerance and understanding. We must understand our strengths and weaknesses and seek to help one another.
It is the duty of every Christian to instruct the ignorant. Failure to do that leads to conspiracy in sin that makes us as guilty as the primary victim. Therefore, spiritual work of mercy demands that we instruct the ignorant and not destroy the ignorant. Precisely because of this, Jesus asked us to rebuke the one that has done wrong in private. Most times when misunderstandings arise we make them public too quickly. We begin to gossip about them and make them the latest news in town. Oh that today you listen to his voice harden not your heart.
Again, where this has proven impossible the first reading says the person shall die in his iniquity while the gospel says that the person should be treated as a sinner and it is ratified in heaven as such. These are the consequences for refusing correction. Anyone who refuses corrections ends in destruction. Many have died simply because they neglected correction. Homes are broken because corrections were neglected. Love correction and save your life.
Lastly, the prophecy of Ezekiel and the statement of Christ about the end of those who refuse correction should provoke repentance. It is never the plan of God that anyone should be destroyed, for that reason Christ calls us to pray. He says “where two or three are gather in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” If they agree about anything it will be done for them. Beloved, let us not cease to pray for those whom we are correcting. Where words are limited prayers can do the unlimited. Prayers give us deeper awareness of his presence and bring our conduct under divine influence. God bless you.