Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gn 4:9)

by Shiu Lan
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33:7-9

Romans 13:8-10

Matthew 18:15-20

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).