Ezekiel 33, 7-9
- I hear a summons to personal responsibility. You shall
warn them for me.
- The prophet is charged with the role of watchman for the house of Israel. We live, according to the President, in an ownership society where people are expected to look out for
themselves. We learn not to be too friendly to strangers. The message I hear today is different because God’s revelation tells us, right from our first parents
and Cain and Abel, that we are indeed responsible for each other.
- God is the judge and Ezekiel merely conveys God’s judgments to others. I tell the wicked: O wicked one, you shall surely die.
- There are dire consequences for us if we do not act. If you do not speak out, the wicked shall die (and) I will hold you responsible. According to the prophet, God will treat him like an accomplice in the evil actions of his neighbor. Could God’s words be meant for us, too?
If we read carefully the documents of Vatican II, no member of the church is exempt from such responsibility. So I am not just engaged here in repeating a dialog between a holy man and God.
- There are two courses of action here, as there always are in
scripture. We fail to speak out or we warn the wicked, trying to turn him
from his way.
- The tone I am looking for is that of a veteran weather forecaster who knows that a dangerous storm
is approaching. I won’t speak in a threatening way, but I will show concern
and will insist on my message.
- Climax: I will hold you responsible. Ezekiel was the prophet of individual responsibility. The
reading is filled with such references: watchman, warn, dissuade.
- Message for our assembly: As I look upon the congregation I
make it clear that the message is to be applied to all of us. We are our brother’s
keeper, especially if we belong to the church. That lesson will be repeated in
- I will challenge myself: to present with my voice a God who loves
us all and calls on us to love each other. If I succeed, I shall have forged
the link that joins all three readings today.
Romans 13, 8-10
- Immediately come the words that free me and my listeners from basing our waking hours on the iron laws of economics. Here is another greater law. Owe nothing
to anyone – except to love one another. These words begin the reading,
and I will rehearse until I fill them with the charge that the apostle intended. I
will also pause briefly after “anyone.” This will allow me to offer
a contrast between debts of property and debts of love. It will also allow me
to change my tone from a command (“Owe nothing”) to an invitation (“Love”).
- The apostle begins with a general statement. The one who loves another
– has fulfilled the law. (“Loves the other” would be more
faithful to the original Greek.) If I pause briefly after “another”
I will make the meaning clear.
- In the second verse he quotes from the Decalogue: You shall not commit
adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet and whatever other commandment. Then he shows how all of them are signs of love at their foundation.
All of them are summed up in this saying, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
- Finally, he expresses the command in a negative way: Love does no evil to the neighbor. I remember the first commandment of the physician, to do no harm.
- Central point: It all comes down to love. The apostle
repeats the word five times in a very short passage! Look for ways to deliver
the word so that I may keep the message fresh.
- The message for our assembly: This is the kind of reminder we need, the simplest checklist of all. In some parishes I have seen ten-page examinations of conscience.
But we could cut through the paperwork by measuring our actions against the apostle’s one criterion: Will my
words or actions cause harm to another? If some of us get the point today, I
shall be satisfied that my ministry has been helpful to the church.
- I will challenge myself: To focus on our concrete actions toward those around us, and what we intend toward them.
Matthew 18, 15-20
- The first time through this passage, I am aware of a set of procedures that the church of Matthew’s time may
have used to reconcile people. But what can we learn from this ancient custom
for our own day? What can I tell them?
- On one level I visualize the procedure as a flow diagram with decision points and outcomes. The manager of a tribunal might see it this way, too. But
if I recite it in that spirit, no one who listens to me will see the point.
- This passage is one of many in the Gospels that instruct the church on the new kind of behavior expected in this revolutionary
society. Remember the Sermon on the Mount.
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him alone. I want
to be careful not to sound like a pop psychologist when I say it.
- Listen to the goal of this approach, by finishing the sentence: If he listens to you… I have prevented a violent confrontation?
I have reduced my personal stress? I have won my case and scored points
in my favor? I can complain about him to the rest of the church? Jesus has a simpler and more wholesome outcome where we live together: you have won over your brother.
- We raise the stakes and include more people: one or two others, the church, only when our private attempts for redress do not succeed.
We take these steps only if he does not listen. Historically the
church had attempted to resolve conflicts at the local level, convoking ecumenical councils as a last resort; more recently
the Vatican has been called in to render judgment even in the early stages of a dispute.
Subsidiarity has been honored more in the breach than in the observance.
- Climax: The promise of Jesus to all his disciples: Where two or three are gathered together in my
name. This is the place where church is happening! As we say, the prayer of the home church, the prayer of the local church.
- Message for our assembly: Listen carefully to the promise of Jesus. He
is no less present in our homes and parishes than he is for the massive celebrations that catch the world media’s attention.
- I will challenge myself: To read the process of
dispute resolution as an attempt to provide space for reconciliation within the church, while keeping in mind the more recent
deviations from this norm.