07Sep 7th September. Twenty-Third Sunday.


First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9

(As a preacher, Ezekiel has the responsibility to warn sinners to repent.)

So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, “O wicked ones, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10

(Paul’s summary of all God’s commandments,”love one another.”

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet;” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

(Fraternal correction within the Christian family.)

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Where the buck stops

In recent years, disclosures about paedophile priests have shocked and dismayed many Catholics. Old priests with long experience of dealing with sinners and their sins, with all their sordidness, were known to have broken down and wept. That a fellow-priest betrayed his sacred trust with the most innocent of all victims, a child, was beyond their comprehension. What angered people most of all was that his superiors knew about his child abuse aberration for years. How many victims might have been spared had those superiors removed him from ministry.

This issue is clearly linked to today’s gospel where Christ said to his disciples: “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.” Then there is a further process if he does not listen, and finally, “if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.” One wonders whether Christ had anything as heinous as child-abuse by a disciple in mind, when he gave them those practical instructions.

Ironically some who preach against permissiveness can be guilty of its grossest forms. Permissiveness, with its tragic consequences, is symptomatic of our times. From bishops to bosses, politicians to policemen, parents to teachers, “passing the buck” is rampant. We want the privileges of power without its burdens. We shy away from problems, cast a blind eye, shirk the responsibility to speak out. And when the scandal leaks out we want to claim we didn’t know. But such ignorance is rejected in Ezekiel where the Lord says: “I have appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel.” And he went on to state plainly: “If you do not warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then I will hold you responsible.”

American President Harry Truman had a card on his desk in the White House declaring in bold capitals THE BUCK STOPS HERE!, “The buck stops here.” This message would fit in any office where people are “their brother’s keepers.” But nowhere would it fit better nowadays than on the kitchen mantlepiece, with its four simple words pointing straight at us like an accusing finger. For people with others in their care, the main task is not be to be popular but to be of help. And we help most by accepting our responsibility.

(adaptation of a homily by Liam Swords)