Life & Soul

Word this week

St Paul by Félix Cassel, at St Peter and St Paul’s Church in Wissembourg, France

The 23rd Sunday of the Year
Ez 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10; Mt 18:15-20 (Year A)

The word of the Lord was addressed to me as follows: ‘Son of man, I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel.’ ” The sentry stands watch over the community, and Ezekiel, as a prophet, was therefore commanded to stand watch over the people of Israel. Vigilance must always begin with ourselves, but sometimes we are called to go beyond this.

Every prophet was called to hear the Word of God and keep it in his heart. Ezekiel was called to go further: he was to proclaim this truth, not only through the virtue of his life, but also, when necessary, in confronting those who had turned from this truth.

In today’s passage the prophet clearly states the responsibility that we have for each other. We are all called to a loving care for each other, and this will sometimes involve the unpleasant duty of confronting the failings that we discern in others. “If I say to a wicked man: wicked wretch, you are to die, and [if] you do not warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”

We all shy from confrontation, principally because we are too aware of our own failings. We are also aware that when failings are not confronted, both in ourselves and in those around us, they continue to fester with disastrous consequences.

Jesus understood that his disciples would face such challenges in their own communities. Therefore he advised them: “If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.”

Confrontation is a hard taskmaster. We know that it is necessary, but too often shy away, fearing its consequences. The words of St Paul point the way forward: “Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour.”

Confrontation can never flow from petty recrimination. It must always be based in love. The love that we find in Christ would never demand of another what we do not find in ourselves. It is only from such healing love that we can begin to confront the wounds that divide us.