23rd Sunday

Ezekiel 33:7-9 Romans 13:8-10 l Mathew 18: 15-20

A drunk decides to go ice fishing; so he gathers his gear and goes walking around until he finds a big patch of ice. He heads into the center of the ice and begins to saw a hole. All of sudden, a loud booming voice comes out of the sky. “You will find no fish under that ice.” The drunk looks around, but sees no one. He starts sawing again. Once more, the voice speaks. “As I said before, there are no fish under the ice.” The drunk looks all around, high and low, but can’t see a single soul. He picks up the saw and tries one more time to finish. Before he can even start cutting, the huge voice interrupts. “I have warned you three times now. This is not a lake and there are no fish!” The drunk is now flustered and somewhat scared; so he asks the voice, “How do you know there are no fish? Are you God trying to warn me?” “No,” the voice replied. “I am the manager of this ice hockey rink.” Today’s readings are about correcting our brothers and sisters with loving concern for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the community.

Being a member of the Church means that we belong to a community of brothers and sisters in Christ. We are, therefore, the “keepers” of our brothers and sisters, for each one of us is important to all others in our faith community. This individual responsibility in a Christian society includes, as today’s readings remind us, our responsibility for each other. Perhaps the most painful obligations of watchful love are fraternal correction and generosity in forgiving and forgetting injuries.

In the first reading, God tells Ezekiel that he is a “watchman for the house of Israel,” obliged to warn Israel of moral dangers. If Ezekiel should refrain from speaking God’s word intended to convert the wicked, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for the death of the wicked.

In the second reading, St. Paul points out that the love we should have for one another should be our only reason for admonishing the sinner. Love seeks the good of the one who is loved. Therefore, we should admonish one another so that we all may repent and grow in holiness.

In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches that true Christian charity obliges a Christian not only to assist his neighbors in their temporal and spiritual needs by material help and by prayer, but also to correct an erring brother if his sins are public. If the erring brother refuses a one-on-one loving correction by the offended party, then the Christian is to try to involve more people: first, “one or two others,” and eventually “the church.” Finally, Jesus mentions the efficacy of community prayer in solving such problems, for Christ is present in the praying Christian community.

We are our brother’s/sister’s keeper. Modern believers tend to think that they have no right to intervene in the private lives of their fellow believers. Others evade the issue saying, “As a sinner, I don’t have the moral courage or the right to correct anyone.” But Jesus emphatically affirms that we are our brothers’ keepers, and we have the serious obligation to correct others. Have we offered advice and encouragement to our friends and neighbors and coworkers when it was needed, and loving correction in private where that was possible? Let us admit the fact that a great degree of indifference to religion shown by our young men and women is due to lack of parental control, training and example.

Gather in Jesus’ name and work miracles: Today’s Gospel reminds us of the good we can do together, and of how we can do it. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” If any group of us gather, work, and act with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we will become much more than simply the collective number of people we are. Today, Jesus makes it clear how important we are, one to another. One in Christ, our community can use God’s power to make His healing, life-giving love more effective among His people.