23rd Sunday Ordinary Time Year B – Judge not
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
“When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name”
This week’s Gospel addresses a very important issue, whether and how we should correct our brother or sister.
It’s easy to be critical of others and not be loving. It’s also easy to be very loving without being critical. But it’s very difficult to be lovingly critical.
According to the etiquette of a liberal society we ought not to do this at all. Everyone is his or her own boss. “Who are you to tell me what to do?”Tolerance is one of the banners of modern secular society and yet if we look closely we are living in one of the most judgmental periods in history. Just by looking at how someone dresses or speaks for example we straight away class or label people as being rich/poor, left/right, in/out, up/down etc…
They say the average 21st century judges someone or something every 30 to 60 seconds. It seems to be our favourite pastime. If we are really honest with ourselves, we will be overwhelmed to see how much of our day is spent judging others. In a world where judging is frowned upon, the highest ratings on television are to watch people like Simon Cowel and Judge Judy etc judge and put someone in their place… go figure.
Spiritually we all know why we love this so much. The lower we make others, the higher we appear. At least to ourselves.
What does the bible say and what do our readings this week tell us?
In today’s 1st reading from Ezekiel, God asks the prophet;“When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name”
This is far from a “who am I to judge” indifferentism.
For the bible we are not isolated individuals, “I make up my own mind, don’t tell me what to do”. We are members of a mystical body to use Paul’s language, made up of interdependent parts. We are all part of a spiritual organism. Therefore we can’t simply retreat into our individual psyches and say to a suffering errant world, “well that’s your problem.”We are part of an organism.
What about the “How”?
How does one go about correcting one’s brother/sister?
1st of all in today’s Gospel Jesus says with utter directness and simplicity;
“If your brother sins against you, go and have it out with him alone.”
That line is powerful.It holds off the sinful tendency of running to everyone but the person in question, and complaining of him/her behind his or her backs.
This strategy is utterly unproductive and spiritually harmful. Why? Because it does nothing to help the person you are criticizing and it just puffs up your already inflated ego.
It’s a very hard thing to do but going to the person him/herself is so life-giving and spiritually productive. It confirms us in love.
The right thing is as usual the hard thing.
The easy thing would be to gossip. Destroying a person behind their back is one of the most soul-destroying things we can do to others and ourselves.
Suppose this doesn’t work?
Suppose the person you are correcting just ignores you. Maybe even lashes out at you. This is not permission to start badmouthing him to everyone and their brother. “That’s it, now I am going to tell the whole world”.
You are then encouraged to bring one or two others into the conversation.
Think of the 12-step programme. Sometimes a handful of friends and people who love the person with an addiction, come into a room together and confront the person to say “We are concerned about this problem you have.”
They are not gossiping, they are not slandering you behind your back. In a constructive and direct way they are telling you the problem. The hope is that the person will get the point and get over his denial, addiction and defensiveness.
You brought the situation to 2 or 3 people and it doesn’t work.
Then he says, “Tell the church”. The word here “ecclesia”, did not mean one of our mega parishes of today with thousands of people. It would have been a pretty small group in the biblical times.
Today we might say tell the pastor of the parish with some people from the parish you trust and who know and love you.
We are following a principle of subsidiarity here, which means start small. Start local, with the person, and then go to the next level, then the next level.
Suppose then he doesn’t even listen to the church, then the Lord recommends “Treat him like a pagan or a tax-collector”. Before we judge that phrase with our 21st Century, over critical minds, ask ourselves; How did Jesus treat the pagans and the tax collectors? He treated them with compassion, patience and love. He loved them, included them, and sought them out. We are called to ongoing compassion and prayer for the person, no matter what.
When we are tempted to criticize somebody, determine to do so only out of love. Which means, criticize the person in the measure that we are going to help him or her deal with the problem. You are not willing to help them? Then keep silent.
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