Sunday, September 7, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Speaking Out

It seems these days that nearly every attempt at asserting a moral truth or pointing out a moral evil is met with such comments as, “If you're a Christian, you aren't supposed to judge because Jesus said not to.” and “Love means never judging.” 

I don't usually write things like this on my blog, but that is a bunch of baloney!

First off, when Jesus said not to judge lest we be judged, He wasn't talking about asserting moral truths and pointing out moral evils. He was talking about making a decision about whether or not a particular person is eternally saved or not. We cannot and should not make that kind of judgment because we do not know the state of anyone's heart. Only God does. He alone knows all the extenuating circumstances of sin. He alone knows a person's culpability. That's why we can't look at someone who has committed suicide (objectively a mortal sin) and make the judgment that that person is going straight to hell. How do we know what was truly going on in that person's mind? How do we know what happened during that last few moments of that person's life? We don't. But God does. That's why we leave this kind of judgment up to Him.

That being said, however, Christians do have the right to look at a particular deed and judge whether or not it is in tune with God's moral law. In fact, we have to do that. It's part of our job as Christians. We have the responsibility to know God's law, follow it, and recognize when it is being broken. What's more, we have the obligation to speak out, both to promote the moral truth of God's law and to point out the moral evil of acts that break God's law.

Today's readings make this very clear. In the First Reading from Ezekiel, God tells the prophet that he is a watchman for the house of Israel. Ezekiel has the responsibility of warning his fellow Israelites when they are breaking God's law, and when he does this, he is warning them as a representative of God. What's more, if he fails in his task and doesn't speak out against moral evil, the prophet is actually, at least partly, responsible for the death that will come to the wicked.

By now you might be think, “Well, that's just Ezekiel, though. He was a prophet, so he's different.” We, too, are prophets. When we are baptized, we receive a share in the priesthood, kingship, and prophetic office of Jesus Christ. Part of our responsibility is to recognize moral evil for what it is and speak out against it. Please note that our task here requires prudence and prayer. We have to know when and how to speak out, and we discover that through prayer as we bring our questions and difficulties to God, Who will provide us with the opportunities, means, and courage to do as He requires.

Furthermore, we don't have to speak out alone, at least not all the time. Jesus makes that clear in today's Gospel. The question seems to have risen among the disciples about what they are supposed to do if someone sins against them. (Note that sin affects the whole community and is never private. It is always a sin against another person even if the other person isn't directly involved. Everyone feels the effects of sin.) Jesus doesn't hesitate to answer. If someone sins, His disciple is to go to that person and tell him his fault in private. Notice that He doesn't say, “Just love the person, and the sin won't matter.” or “Don't judge anyone!” No. Jesus says to go and point out the sin, to speak out against moral evil. 

Jesus is also well aware that sometimes, maybe even often, this kind of individual conversation doesn't work. The person sinning might (and probably will) resist, perhaps saying a variation of the phrases that occur so often in our modern day world. In that case, Jesus continues, the person confronting the sinner must go and get two or three others to help. Together they must speak to the sinner again. If this second attempt still doesn't work, the Church must be alerted of the situation, and its leaders must confront the sinner. 

What happens if the person in sin refuses to listen even to the Church? Jesus says that, in such a case, the person must be treated like a Gentile or a tax collector. The people of Jesus' day would have understood “Gentile” and “tax collector” as “outsider.” In other words, the person who stubbornly remains in sin will no longer be treated as a full member of the community. In modern terms, that person must not receive the Eucharist because he or she is in direct disobedience to the Church and is willfully remaining in sin despite being told numerous times of the truth of the moral law and his or her failing to follow that law. 

In other words, sin has consequences. The person who gravely sins cuts himself or herself off from the community of the Church. 

Now what about love? Many people would say that cutting someone off doesn't seem very loving. The biggest problem with that opinion is that many people today don't understand the true meaning of love. They tend to think of it in terms of nice, cozy feelings and being accepting all the time. Actually, true love has far more to do with the will than with the emotions. True love means willing the absolute best for the loved one in every circumstance, and that absolute best definitely does not include sin, which shatters relationships with God and other people. True love, therefore, means making every possible effort to draw a loved one away from sin, and that means asserting moral truth and pointing out moral evil. True love doesn't want a loved one to throw away his or her life, in this world and especially in eternity, because of sin. True love means speaking out even if the loved one doesn't appreciate it.

We'll conclude with one more observation about asserting moral truth and pointing out moral evil. It must start with oneself. Jesus tells us to remove the beams from our own eyes so that we can see clearly to remove the specks from others' eyes. We have to recognize and deal with our own sin so we can effectively help others.

As Christians, then, we are called to speak out, proclaiming what is morally right and combating what is morally wrong. We do so out of love and with love, but we must do so nonetheless.

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