Scripture: Lectionary 128: Ezekiel 33:7-9. Psalm 95:1-2.6-7.8-9. Romans
13:8-10. Matthew 18:15-20:
Tough love is an expression we hear when parents deal with some of the
problems and faults of their teenage children. It is used also by
spiritual writers and by guidance counselors. It sounds harsh and it is
harsh and difficult to embrace in our relationships with others. Today’s
lesson is about fraternal or sisterly correction when that is needed in the
community, the parish, or the family. This is a difficult dimension of
love, but is necessary. We see it in the personal concern we may have for
a member of the family who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. The person to
person meeting is the first step that the Gospel advises for us in offering
fraternal correction to a brother or sister. If this does not succeed we
are advised to get one or two others to help with what is called an
intervention. Finally, when there is no cooperation then the third step is
more authoritative and juridical especially in public scandals. We have
seen this third step in the tragic events of the sexual abuse of children
by the clergy, teachers, and even family members.
Ezekiel compares himself to a watchman who is responsible for offering such
correction to one who fails to live out the commandments of God. St.
Gregory the Great takes the image of watchman and applies it to the role of
the servant of the servants of God—a title he gave to his own role as Pope
and that has been passed on through the history of popes. The prophet
affirms the responsibility that an individual has for his or her actions.
We are to be accountable and responsible for our moral decisions and
corrected when they are bad decisions. Both Ezekiel and Jesus are helping
us today to understand the importance of the command to be responsible for
one another and to offer watchful advice and correction when a person needs
this. Israel must refrain from sinning and turning away from God and
Ezekiel the watchman and prophet makes this the object of his corrective
advice. He continues to carry this out in good times and in bad times as a
faithful servant to God’s people in his prophetic call. “There is great
dramatic force in this sudden application of the rule to the
Jesus and the Evangelist’s interpretation of what Jesus says gives us the
three steps we are pondering over today in how to correct one another in
order to stop serious sin and avoid sin. We often are blind to our personal
sins and conceal them from others and even ourselves. Deep down we know
that God is like a watchman who knows these secrets and wants us to
overcome their sinfulness. We are to do this through others and through
the community of believers to which we belong. Our blindness is cured
through the help of another pointing out where we are sinning.
In all stages of this tough love or relational correction the forgiveness
of the sinner is at the heart of this practice of correction. Here is where
we are to differ from taking things to a court of justice. The one to one
confrontation is perhaps the hardest but if done with the help of grace and
forgiveness it is the best. Whenever this does not succeed then the next
step of getting one or two others to intervene may be necessary. The last
step which is sometimes equated with excommunication is the final stage
that is spoken of in today’s Gospel. This step means that there is no
cooperation on the part of the one confronted and no hope for his or her to
change their behavior. Failure to listen to parents and lawful authorities
in matters of moral sinfulness is part of the blindness that we all have
and by listening to Jesus and Ezekiel we can overcome this and live in the
light and life of a God-like pattern of goodness. We keep in mind that “It
is the lesson of forgiveness that is Jesus’ and Matthew’s concern. The
stages of correction are there for the hope of bringing the one who has
sinned back into full communion with the community. We try at all costs to
avoid the final stage of asking the person to leave the community.
The teaching of Jesus ends with a call to prayer. We have the motivation to
pray together for where one or two are gathered in the Name of Jesus he is
present and is the faithful watchman and forgiver in our midst. Prayer is
made in and with Emmanuel, Jesus who is God with us. We remember that
Matthew is the only Evangelist to give Jesus this title already in his
Infancy Narrative in chapter one. It continues in this Church Discourse of
part five of the Gospel and is found at the end of the Gospel as the
assurance of Jesus being with us always even to the end of the ages.
“All of this has a very real application in Church life, for the number of
people who turn away from the Church where they have not found forgiveness
is legion. Overall, to the extent that the churches listen to the Jesus who
speaks to his disciples in this chapter, they will keep his spirit alive
instead of memorializing him. Then Matthew 18:20 will be fulfilled: “Where
two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
Amen.” (R.E.Brown, “intro to N.T.”).
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