Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gn 4:9)

Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33:7-9

Thus says the LORD: 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.

Romans 13:8-10

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.

Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples: "If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

In this Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus teaches us to correct people. To me, this is quite difficult as I sometimes lack the prophetic courage to tell people to turn away from bad ways. He sets out a series of actions for us to take towards people who sin against us.

Let’s take an example, I may have paid for someone’s share in a gift and the money is never returned after a few months with the excuse of forgetfulness. After a while, although a Christian must not judge another, one tends to wonder whether the tardiness is due to covetousness since the person appears to live a fairly lavish life style. If I have not heard about Jesus’ teaching, it may be easier to forgive the petty “debt” than do what Jesus teaches, “go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone” (Mt 18:15). It would have been easier to confront someone who has wronged me to explain and clarify myself. Of course before confronting the person, I would have to prepare myself, think about what to say without conveying the impression of being judgmental but with fraternal love, to successfully convince the person on my own before involving more people. Such a daunting task! “Am I my brother’s keeper” (Gen 4:9)?

During Pope Francis’ apostolic journey to Columbia in 2017, his homily in the concluding Mass celebrated on September 10 has shown us what Jesus’ teaching means in dealing with such important issues as the dignity of the person and human rights in the community and national levels. Indeed Columbia was torn and tormented by political unrests, conflicts and divisions especially in the nineties, which caused much suffering to the people who yearned for peace in the past few decades.

The Holy Father said that the victim of someone’s sin is called to take the first step, out of Christian love, to reach out to the wrong-doer so that the latter is not lost. It takes courage to initiate the encounter, especially when the victim has suffered greatly. But this is a healing encounter to meet, clarify and forgive. If the two sides engaging in dialogue is not enough, Jesus teaches us to “take one or two others along with you” and if the person still refuses to listen, “tell it to the Church” and people of experience shall be involved (Mt 18:17). Deep long-time wounds must require moments where justice is done, where victims are given the opportunity to know the truth, where damage is adequately repaired and clear commitments are made to avoid repeating those wrongs. The correction of the wrong doer(s) does not aim to expel but to integrate. Christians must respond to the culture of death and violence with the culture of life and encounter. Yet, we are asked to be charitably firm in that which is not negotiable. “In short, the demand is to build peace” and “the Lord is able to untangle that which seems impossible to us; he has promised to accompany us to the end of time and will not allow our efforts to come to nothing”, the Holy Father concluded in a beautiful message of encouragement and hope to the faithful. Truly, Jesus promises his disciples, “… if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Mt 18:20).

Therefore, yes, we are keepers of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must do so with Christian love as St. Paul said in the second reading, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rm: 13:10).

Posted: September 6, 2020

Shiu Lan

Shiu Lan is your Catholic neighbour with a simple faith and likes praying the Rosary. With a B.Sc from the University of Hong Kong, she worked in Information Technology and Project Management before working with joy at home.

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