23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
What do we do when we see that something is wrong or that one of our brothers or sisters is doing something wrong or going the wrong way? The truth is that we are our brother’s keeper. The knowledge of what is right and wrong imposes an obligation on us to speak the truth out of love, to correct someone. Failure to do so would cause harm to the person who is living a sinful life, and our conscience will bother us.
What the Lord God wants from us is to find ways to draw others to HIM, by the way of correction. Because of our weaknesses we all need some correction. One of the spiritual works of mercy is to admonish the sinner.
In the first reading, Ezekiel in his office as prophet was told by the Lord to correct others. He did not want to do it, may he feared to lose his popularity. But God told him honestly: “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. None of us wants to tell others their faults or that what they are doing is against what God asks us to do!
You could see a young couple living together and not married in the Church — who wants to say that out loud? And there are so many situations like that in the area of sexual morality. Our Church teaches clearly that sexual activity between two people is only moral when that activity is between a man and a woman who are married in the Church. Clearly our culture and even many Catholics are not comfortable saying that out loud today. But it is not only sexual morality that is a challenge today.
We have challenges in the way we treat immigrants, challenges in the way that businesses make profits, challenges in the ways in which we discuss differences in politics and differences in religion; challenges in our desires for money and power, and in so many areas of our lives. We have developed, however, 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.
Our second reading today is from the Letter to the Romans. In this letter today we hear that love is the fulfillment of the law. Yet today we often think of love as simply feeling good about one another. Love is lived today very much as a “live and let live” kind of way. Hardly anyone of us would think of a Prophet saying difficult things as a loving person. Even modern prophets can say harsh and difficult things, but we rarely think of them as “loving.” Instead, we think of them as being mean, not as people of love!
St. Augustine of Hippo said Christians cannot be indifferent to the “severe wound” a fellow believer may have inflicted upon themselves through sin. So if my brother or sister is in sin, I must use love towards him/her and, first of all, speak to him/her personally, pointing out the danger of losing his/her life with God. In humility we must strive to create a culture that does not accept sin, while realizing that we all fall at times.
Don’t judge, but guide others towards the path of salvation. When you correct someone, don’t be arrogant. We are all in need of God’s loving correction. We should journey together to a deeper understanding of our shared faith. While I remove the wooden beam from my eyes first, I see clearly to remove the splinter from my brother’s eye. The readings today are so clear in this teaching: If you do not correct those in error, you cannot be loving them. Parents often correct their small children almost automatically and know that it is a loving thing to do. Once a child gets older, parents have to make a choice to correct their children, especially when they know that the child will not accept correction easily. And when we are in the presence of adults, we often tell ourselves that it is not our duty to correct anyone! But if we omit to tell them what they are supposed to know and they die in sin, we are accountable!
The passage of today is about how to deal with a neighbor who has wronged us. But we can also look at this from the other side where we are the one wronging someone else. It works both ways. 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, and 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.
So our first challenge today is to accept that we are broken and need correction. Only within that context can we see God’s merciful love. Then in God’s love we might be able to speak the truth to our own culture and to others in our lives. To offer correction and accept correction requires God’s help and we are blessed to gain that during Mass.