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HOW SHOULD WE TREAT SOMEONE WHO DOES WRONG?

Father Francis's picture
Twenty-third Week in Ordinary Time

Ez. 33:7-9 & Mt. 18:15-20

There is something I find hard to do - and I wonder if you feel the same. It is pointing out to others the wrong they are doing. I feel I should mind my own business yet in today’s Gospel Jesus says, “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.”

This too is the teaching in the first reading. Ezekiel says, “If I say to a wicked man, Wicked wretch, you are to die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin but you yourself will have saved his life.”

Obviously the matter you are going to approach your brother about must be something serious. So Jesus lays down a procedure which begins with praying about this matter for the correct approach, that we make our brother see the folly of his ways and repent, and that the aim of our approach is not going to bring about a rift between the two of us. Certainly no good will come if we approach him in anger!

“Now,” Jesus says, “go and have it out with him alone.” That means that we are not to gossip to another person about the matter. We must make our brother see that we are not there to gloat over his sin but that we have only his best interest at heart.

Jesus says, “If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.” Our approach has been right and successful and the Holy Spirit has softened his heart.

Jesus continues, “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you.” The persons we take should be wise, gracious and impartial, not hot-tempered and judgmental. The goal is not to put the offender on trial, but to persuade him to see the wrong and repent.

Jesus goes on, “But, if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community.” Jesus hopes by now he will see the seriousness of his wrong and that he will listen to the community.

Lastly, Jesus concludes, “If he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.” What did Jesus mean? Is Jesus really telling us to abandon this stubborn and obdurate offender and treat him like a social outcast as the Jews treated pagans and tax collectors? Something tells me the answer is 'Yes' because of the gradation of treatment we are to use in bringing our brother to repent. Didn’t Jesus once say, “Do not throw your pearls before swine?” Again, how did Jesus treat Herod at His trial? He spoke not one word to him.

Yet another part of me thinks I am sure Jesus would not tell His church to freeze anyone out. I think Jesus would always want us to leave the door of communication open. Jesus refuses no one who is ready to receive pardon and healing! The call to accountability is inevitable and we cannot escape it, both in this life and at the Day of Judgment when the Lord will return. But while we have the opportunity we must not give up on stubborn offenders, but instead make every effort to win them with the grace and power of God’s healing love and wisdom.

Lord Jesus, make me an instrument of your peace. If ever I am in a situation where correction has to be given, may I go through the procedure you have laid down and bring about peace and reconciliation.

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