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Twenty-third Sunday – Year A – Ordinary Time
Readings: Eze 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20.
1/ Reading I: RSV Ezekiel 33:7 “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.”
2/ Reading II: RSV Romans 13:8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery. You shall not kill. You shall not steal. You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
3/ Gospel: RSV Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
I. THEME: The fraternal correction
When we live together, there must be conflicts because we are different in thinking, interests, values and hobbies. When there is a conflict, who is right and who is wrong? The fraternal correction is the proper way to solve a conflict. But the correction is a very delicate problem because not everyone wants to accept their mistakes. Some people think the correction causes more harms than benefits, so they choose to adapt the silent attitude to protect peace for themselves and others. These people must know that this kind of peace is only temporal and deceptive because if individual sins are not corrected on time, they shall gradually spread out and cause many damages later for families and communities.
Today readings help us to recognize the importance of the fraternal correction and the proper way to do it. In the first reading, God reminds the Ezekiel of his prophetic duty; he must say and warn people whatever God tells him. If he refuses to do that, he shall be responsible for the loss of those who are under his leadership. In the second reading, St. Paul recognized the importance of love in the Christians’ life so he taught the Romans, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” In the Gospel, Jesus also taught the importance of love in the fraternal correction. He gave us the proper way to do it in order to get the desired result.
1/ Reading I: The prophet’s duties are to correct and to warn sinners.
1.1/ The prophet’s duties: The author used the participle “ƒôpeh,” which came from the Hebrew verb “ƒ¹pâ.” This verb means to watch carefully so that if there is a sign of danger, the watchman must sound the horn or blow the trumpet for everyone to know. In the Book of Proverbs, this verb was used for the ideal housewife who always knows how to arrange things to keep everything in good order for her house (Prov. 31:27). Similarly, God always observes all things that happen in the world so He can keep everything in His providence (Prov. 15:3; cf. Psa. 66:7). The participle “ƒôpeh” is specially used for a military watchman who must constantly be in the sentry-box or walk around the ancient city-wall so that he can discover any imminent danger that threatens the safety and announce it for his chief (Cf. 1 Sam 14:16; 2 Sam 18:24ff; 2 Kgs 9:17-20). If a watchman misses a threat due to his sleep or carelessness, he can be condemned to death.
The prophetic duty is also described in this image when the Lord said to the prophet Ezekiel, “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (Eze. 3:17; cf. Eze. 33:7; Jer. 6:17; Hab. 2:1). God’s message for a prophet is clear: He must tell people whatever he heard from the Lord. Although God is always sending His prophets to correct people, but many people choose to ignore prophets’ warnings (Isa 56:10). The failure of prophets to announce and people’s ignorance of God’s message are the reasons of the Israel’s destruction and exile. In opposition, the true prophets shall be the first ones to announce God’s salvation (Isa 52:7-10).
1.2/ The prophet’s responsibility: As a watchman can be put to death if he didn’t announce an imminent threat, a leader who didn’t correct his follower’s bad habits shall also have a similar fate before God. This responsibility is clearly announced by God in today passage, “If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way; that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”
The leader’s duty is to warn; the follower’s duty is to correct. Both shall be responsible before God if they don’t fulfill their duty. If a leader warned but a follower didn’t listen to his warning, he must take full responsibility of his disobedience, as God said, “But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.” A leader can be the pope, bishops, priests, teachers, parents and guardians.
2/ Reading II: To love God and others is to fulfill all the laws.
Jesus already taught us all commandments are contained in the two most commandments: love God and love others. St. Paul explained the latter in different words, “The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery. You shall not kill. You shall not steal. You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” St. Thomas Aquinas reasoned: When you love somebody, you want all the best to happen to him; therefore, you must give him the fraternal correction because you don’t want him to suffer bad results both in this life and the next.
2.1/ To correct others out of love: The main motivation for correction is love. God is love so He wisely prepares for His children to have many watchmen to keep them from both bodily and spiritual dangers, such as: parents, brothers and sisters in their house; teachers in school, a priest in their parish, local and national government, a bishop in local ordinary and a pope and his Curia in the universal Church.
God’s watchmen are required to imitate God as the Good Shepherd in guiding their sheep: to find the lost sheep, to bind the injured, to fatten the undernourished, to find green fields and pure springs. The good shepherd must be ready to sacrifice his life to protect his sheep from wolves and robbers and from falling into ditches. He cannot let his sheep to wander around and to be a prey for beasts.
A follower is required to respect and to love his watchmen as God’s representatives and to listen to their messages as God’s messages so that he might be free from all dangers. He is also required to follow his leaders and not strangers. In short, both leaders and followers have their duties to fulfill. Leaders are required to deliver God’s messages and to love his followers while followers are required to listen and to obey leaders’ messages.
2.2/ To correct due to other reasons: Some of these reasons are:
(1) To satisfy one’s anger: This is the most popular reason for correction. When people face an undesired thing, especially when they are tired or under pressure, they are easy to get angry by shouting, reviling, and using the abusive language. Correcting someone in such angry moment shall not only have a desired result, but also cause hatred, insult and isolation from the corrected one. The best thing they should do in such moment is to go into a quiet room to calm down, to rest and to think overnight so they can find a better way and use proper language to achieve the desired result.
(2) To humiliate other: The other reason for correction is to humiliate others in front of their loved ones. Everyone has the sense of honor needing to be protected. If the corrector takes this sense of honor away, the corrected one shall protect oneself by all possible ways, the desired result can’t be reached.
(3) To show one’s goodness: Another reason for correction is to show how good the corrector is. The corrector accuses other’s faults in order for others to know how good he is. In the Gospel, Jesus rebuked the scribes and the Pharisees as hypocrites because they tried to find faults in him and his disciples to show their goodness and piety.
3/ Gospel: The proper way to correct others.
3.1/ The fraternal correction: Correcting others is a very delicate issue and must be done for the benefits of the community and the individual violator. In order for the correction to bear fruits, Jesus teaches us to carefully follow this process:
(1) First, between only the two related persons: Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you; go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Two things Jesus wants us to pay attention in this sentence. First, correction must be done between the two related persons, the violator and the violated. Most of the time, we corrected the violator through or under the presence of others. Doing at such shall have no result or the unwanted result, because no one wants to be corrected before others, especially before their intimates or relatives. Secondly, the purpose of correction isn’t about to satisfy our anger, but to gain a brother or a sister.
(2) Next, bringing two or three witnesses: Jesus continues, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” This is a wise thing to do because it helps both members to avoid their subjective views. Two or three witnesses are enough to conclude something is true. Most of the worldly courts use two or three witnesses to judge their people.
(3) Lastly, before the whole community: Jesus continues, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” The “ekklesia” in Greek can be any gathering of people, so it can be a family, a community or the Church. This is the last step to solve a problem to safeguard the common good and to avoid setting a “bad example” for a community. A Gentile and a tax collector are those who don’t know or disregard God’s law. However, we must be ready to forgive them if they repent.
3.2/ God presents in the midst of a community: We don’t deny God’s presence in an individual but His presence in a community must take precedence and have the priority. Jesus gives two examples to illustrate God is always presence in a community.
(1) The right to bind and to lose one’s sin: Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” First of all, this right is used for the truth, not for the falsity because God is the truth. Secondly, Jesus wants to remind sinners that though they don’t see yet the result in this world, it isn’t meant that they can avoid it in the next life. Lastly, the Church uses this right for the sacrament of Reconciliation to forgive sins so sinners could begin a new life.
(2) Unity in prayers: Jesus said, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” This promise doesn’t mean all things which people ask shall be guaranteed by God. In order to be heard, people must avoid selfish requests or those which cause damages for others; but those please God and bring benefits for others. Next, when God hears their prayer, it isn’t meant the petitioners shall receive exactly what they desire. Only God knows what is good and He shall give what is good for their future. Lastly, Jesus wants to emphasize God’s presence even in a group of two or three people, not only in a big gathering.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– To correct others is a delicate thing to do, especially to correct those who are our peers or older than us. Therefore, many people want to have peace and not to waste their time to correct others; they are afraid to be hated or to endure the unwanted results. But today God’s words clearly say to us that the fraternal correction is our duty to bring others to the right way, not an option.
– Many times, we corrected others, not to bring them back, but to satisfy our anger or to find fault in them. Punishment is only the last step we should use for the sinner after we went through these three steps; and the punishment’s purpose is to purify, not to destroy others.
– These three steps which God teaches us in today Gospel safeguard justice and avoid all psychological fears.
– In order for the fraternal correction to be effective, we need to have charity. The purpose for correction is to save others, to give them an opportunity to repent, not by any other reasons.