Every time there is a murder in our city, and that is very often, we hear comments from residents, politicians, clergy saying things like, ‘this has to stop’ and ‘enough is enough’. These are the aftermath reactive comments and are of no consolation to victims’ families and no deterrent to perpetrators.
Perhaps the prescribed scriptures for the 23rd Sunday throws us a challenge to be pro-active rather than reactive. Prevention is the harder task. Ezekiel, the prophet, is somewhat between a rock and a hard place. His charge is difficult. He is the sentinel for his people. It is his task to warn the erring ones that they must change their ways. If he does, he risks rejection, hatred and maybe even death. If they change it is a win-win situation. If they don’t Ezekiel will not be held responsible. However, if Ezekiel refuses to give the warning, then he is judged responsible for the negative outcome.
In the Gospel passage from Matthew, we see that the community is facing the challenge of reconciliation and setting a member on the straight path. Forgiveness and mercy is a clear message throughout the Gospel. A definite procedure is set up – one to one, small group to one, larger church community to one. It is worth noting that the task of binding or loosing is the task of the whole community, not of a few assigned individuals. It is only when this process fails to produce reconciliation that the community considers expelling the member. This final action may seem in contrast to Jesus’ openness to all people, and Jesus’ special call to sinners. Nevertheless, the community is making its best effort to bring about reconciliation of the member before it is too late.
Not many of us want the task of sentinel. It takes abundant courage to take the step of issuing the warning. But even before that courage is needed, it takes genuine love and concern for the welfare of the sister or brother who seems to be losing their way. Isn’t this our Gospel call as baptized people – to love one another? And is it not our mission to restore right relationship?
Imagine what would happen if each follower of Jesus took the love and concern, then the courage and time, to seek out a brother or sister who needs that care, and whose life might be spiraling out of control! It is our call to do just that. We are today’s Ezekiels charged to bring the warning, the message of reconciliation, by word and deed. If we fail in the task we will be held responsible.
The next time we hear of violent crime on our streets, may we not voice the sentiments ‘this has to stop’, but rather let us say ‘it is well past time for us to start to bring our sister and our brother into the circle of reconciliation and love.’
Elizabeth Ferguson OP