IN A world that got used to political correctness, tolerance, moral relativism and “mind your own business mentality,” compromise has become the rule rather than the exception. Accepting wrong in the pretext of considering “other ways of being right” has simply turned out to be a convenient excuse not to take a stand against the darkness that surrounds us. Even among some Christians, denouncing evil has become excruciatingly difficult, for correcting others is often viewed as meddling, obtrusion or compulsion.
This, however, is not what God expects of his children. This Sunday’s First Reading (Ezekiel 33:7-9) is very clear. “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.”
The gospel (Matthew 18:15-20) pursues the same theme further by outlining a procedure for fraternal correction. Jesus said that if a brother sins against you, you should tell him his fault in private – just the two of you. If he does not listen, take two or three other persons with you to stand as witnesses in your attempt for correction. And if still, our sinning brother refuses to listen, we are told to bring the matter to the church, until finally, if our brother still hardens his heart, then the church should treat him “as it would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
Sure, we find here a progression of correction and discipline. But what does it mean to treat another person like a Gentile or a tax collector? Of course, that means expulsion--it means to treat someone like an outsider in the family of God--the church. It means to be disassociated with non-believers and sinners. After all, they do not want to change their ways, do they? So, don’t they deserve to be treated as outcasts?
Well, the instruction to treat like a Gentile or a tax collector must, in my mind, be viewed in the light of what Jesus himself did. How did Jesus treat the Gentiles and sinners of his time on earth? Was exclusion or ex-communication their final verdict?
One very remarkable thing we can see in looking at the gospel in its entirety is that Jesus reached out to these people. His gift of salvation, although initially offered to the Jews, was made available as well to the Gentiles or the non-Jews. He preached the good news in the Gentile territories just as he did in Israel, and did to their people the same good things he has done to the Jews--forgive their sins, heal their sicknesses, ease their burdens, provide their needs, and bless their whole lives.
He treated sinners with compassion. We can only recall the calling of Levi or Matthew, the tax collector in Luke 5:27-32. Seeing the tax collector seated at the customs post, Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” And he did. Then when Levi hosted a great banquet in his house, the Pharisees and scribes found as repugnant Jesus having a seat at the table with a large crowd of tax collectors and other public sinners. Jesus’ reply on this occasion was very groundbreaking, “Those who are healthy do not need a physician but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners.”
Yes, we have a duty to correct, even discipline, our brothers and sisters who are committing sin, but we must do so with the right intention – not out of self-righteousness conceit, condescension, arrogance or pride, but of loving them the way Jesus does. The Second Reading (Romans 13:8-10) is very relevant, “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Let us then correct each other in the name of love, for at one point or another, we all needed, and may still need, correction. Like Jesus, may we hate sin but love the sinner, helping him receive Jesus’ gift of salvation.