Are we our brothers' or sisters' keepers? The theme of the readings for our liturgy seems to be, not fault-finding, but fault-finder Sunday. We are invited to consider our responsibilities to others in the area of their well being and that of the community.
Faults which hurt the faulter and also the faultee within relationships and community are assumed. Disorder caused by these faults and sins is opposite of the mission which was and is to bring peace and reconciliation. We pray for the grace to respond to the challenges of these readings that we might live the unifying grace of the Eucharist. The call is to be honest, direct, communal and compassionate. It is easier to let it all happen and deal later with the fractures.
In our First Reading, we hear a prophetic charge from God to Ezekiel. In the previous verses God is saying that watchmen have been selected to warn the cities of any advancing dangerous warriors and they are responsible to fulfill their tasks. If they fail then they will die for their guilt.
In our verses there is a parallel. Ezekiel is given the message that if God tells him to confront a wicked person, then he has to do it. If he resists then the wicked person will die, but the prophet will be held responsible for that person’s death.
Prophets are to speak more of the present than foretelling the future. Their mission of announcing God’s word is both communal and individual and personal. Ezekiel, as with Jeremiah, Amos, Isaiah, and the others, calls to the nation and its leaders of their infidelities. Ezekiel is informed that he must also speak to persons when their faults injure themselves or the harmony of the group. This message flows from the traditions found in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, whose laws and customs were all given that the people might relate in unity and reverence as God’s holy family.
Matthew pictures Jesus specifying these traditions. These verses are all very clear. If someone sins against you, address the issue by confronting the sinner. If that does not have any good results, gather an intervention team and ask the sinner to listen and change. If that does not work, then let the issue be known to the community from which the person is now not in communication. The word “church” here means the “gathered together”.
The final verses are inviting, but need to be well understood.
Praying together for anything will bring it about. Would that this were true. The problem, of course, would be when three of you were praying for rain on your fields, and three of us were praying for a sunny day for our picnic. We have all asked for a healing of some kind, in deep faith and in a group, and it did not heal. Should I say that Jesus was just exaggerating?
Nobody knows exactly why God seems to answer some prayers and not others. What is good for the family of God and the unity and harmony are parts of the answer. The truth is that we think we know what is best for the harmony of humankind or even our communities. We have to believe that God is always laboring for the larger good than just our own.
Now back to the main challenge of these readings. Confrontation and intervention are difficult ways of bringing about harmony. We are all very good finders-of-faults in those around us. I am personally an expert and very accurate. My problem is whether their faults or problems are more about my sense of what’s right, proper and orderly. I am a charter member of the Clean-Freak Club, especially in the kitchen. There are others who express their view of order in different ways. My joy is an empty sink and dishes dried and put away. Others seem to have a degree in Structural Engineering and so delight in building huge well-balanced and harmonious compilations of dishes and glasses and bowls and pans which can defy the laws of gravity. I say, do it my way; they say that I should ease up and things will work out. This is a small issue in the grand scale of things, but it does speak to the issue of fault-finding.
My personal opinion needs ratification and discussion with others. If somebody is hurting themselves and so consequently others, then I must not ease up. Sin is social. If someone is becoming less a part of the “gathered” by their self-damaging actions, then the “gathered” have less of that person’s grace and blessing. That person is extracting her and his gifts and person from the community. This is true for couples, families, parishes and the larger groupings. What remains important is to make sure that a person’s actions are “sinful” or injurious to them and others, or just a difference from the way I would live.
I was the Rector of a large Jesuit community and the rule of our Society is that a man from the community is appointed to be the “Admonitor”. The man who was called to do this came to me and told me he didn't want to do this, because he would have to decide each time he wanted to correct me, whether it was his problem or mine. We were good friends, so whenever he came to admonish me, he would come in my office, clear his throat loudly, state his admonition and walk out, closing the door. Then he would knock again, come in sit down just to chat, but nothing about the admonition. He did not like his prophetic calling, but I did, because I knew he was always right and I needed that kind of love
What Jesus is asking of us is to do the “tough-love” of revealing ourselves and our love by bringing about harmony rather than our personal “clean-freak” orderliness. It is easy to love what we approve, but Christian love is deeper than approval. We can think we are loving by allowing. We are not everybody’s Certified Public Admonitor, we are Eucharistic-ly sent to bring about Christ’s kingdom even in the messy kitchens of life.
“Like a deer that longs for running streams,
my soul longs for You, my God!
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