Instead, our readings today challenge us about sin, about how we are to help our brothers and sisters confront the sins they have in their lives, about how we are to help them through a process of reconciliation.
Confronting the existence of sin in our world, helping our brothers and sisters overcome the sins in their lives: these are not topics that we normally enjoy addressing. Often, in modern America, we either want to judge or condemn our brothers and sisters for their sins, or we want to brush their sins under the carpet and not deal with them at all. In seminary, we were encouraged to help our brother seminarians deal with any problems or issues with which they were struggling. Well, I remember once when a seminarian friend of mine started skipping mass for no apparent reason at all, and I confronted him with it. Boy was he angry at me – really angry. He barked back at me: “How dare you talk to me that way. Who do you think you are? My guardian? My watchdog? Mind your own business.” I responded to him that as a brother seminarian, as a friend, and as a deacon in the Church at that time, I felt that it was my duty and responsibility to point this out to him and to help him along his journey of faith in that way. I told him that I wasn’t doing this to be mean or judgmental; I was trying to help along on his journey in trying to discern his vocation to the priesthood. Obviously, he did not have the same perspective.
It is interesting that this seminarian asked me if I thought I was his watchdog, because in a way I was. We hear the Lord tells the prophet Ezekiel that he is a watchman, he is a lookout - a sentinel - who is to warn the people of the ways they’ve strayed from their path of faith, to call them out for their wickedness and to bring them back to the straight and narrow. The Lord tells Ezekiel that it is his responsibility to speak out to his brothers and sisters, to give them warning. And Ezekiel will be held responsible if he does not fulfill this role.
Yet, we are not to be a watchman out of arrogance or self-righteousness or out of a mean spirit. We do not do this out of a desire to make ourselves look good or to boost our own egos like the Pharisees did. We are to do so out of love, out of compassion. Paul tells us that we are to owe nothing to our neighbor, but what we do owe them is love. This love that is at the heart of our faith is to motivate everything in our lives, just as it was the foundation of Jesus’ ministry and his proclamation of God’s kingdom.
So often we want to solve problems that are far out there, that are not our own backyard, but we don’t want to look at the problems and sins that are right in front of us, those sins that are in our lives or in the lives of our brothers and sisters that are a part of the fabric of our community. I remember that when I was a missionary working at the soup kitchen in Winnipeg, I tried very hard to get the young adult group at our church to come and volunteer. Many of the young adults in this group were very altruistic and did so much to reach out to others throughout the world – many had been to Haiti and other poor countries on mission trips. Yet, to get them to come down to a soup kitchen located in their own community was something they were not comfortable doing. To be honest, they were very judgmental of the people who went there, and were not comfortable in facing the problems of drug addiction and homelessness and poverty that tore apart their own city. Yet, I never giving up in asking them. The young adults eventually went down to the soup kitchen, and they even helped organize a food pantry at their own church to address some of these same issues. The food pantry is still operating today almost 20 years later.
Paul and Jesus ask us to help each other out in reconciliation, to help each other look at the sins that exist in our lives. Paul sees the love of God and love of neighbor that we live out in our lives as the fulfillment of God’s law, while Jesus presents us a detailed schematic of how to help our neighbor address the sin in his life, especially when he sins against us. If we take this commandment to love seriously, that love will not remain disjointed and abstract in the shadows and in muffled whispers, but instead that love will become an integral part of the nitty-gritty of the reality around us. In our day-to-day reality, in the call we receive from our faith, it’s our responsibility and our calling to decide how we’re going to love our neighbor, and this is a great responsibility indeed. This may sound simple on the surface, but in the messiness of our daily lives, in the dynamics that exist in our human relationships, this is not easy at all. Just being nice and politically correct aren’t going to fulfill this responsibility. Sometimes we will have to be very courageous. Sometimes we will have to confront our worst fears and those things that make us most uncomfortable in life. Sometimes the choices are make are very tough; sometimes none of the alternatives are to our liking. The road of faith is not always easy. Yet, if we truly proclaim God’s kingdom here on earth, this is what we’re called to do.