November 24, 2017, 10:51 pm
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A duty to correct

JESUS said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

***

A careless look at today’s Gospel reading can readily bore us: this is far from Jesus’ usual act of regaling the people with parables about the Kingdom of Heaven or confronting the religious authorities of his day. When we read about trial procedures and fraternal correction, we get the sense that the new Law of Jesus might simply be a lighter yoke than the one imposed by the Law of Moses (cf. Mt 11:29-30): lighter indeed, but still a yoke. How can fraternal correction be Good News? Why can’t life be just a breeze, without these moral restrictions, absolutely free? If this can’t be the case, why bother believing in Christ at all?

In a Church of hypocrites and habitual sinners, the duty of correcting somebody else’s fault(s) is viewed with fear and disdain. We take it for granted that we are sinful, hence we do not have the moral advantage and thus shirk from pointing out the wrong. Of course we immediately correct the sinner when it is against us that the offense is done; but when do we show compassion for others and correct the sinner for a fault that is not (at least for now) committed against us? When?

Yes, we are a Church of sinners, but we are a Church of prophets too—and if we truly are filled by the Holy Spirit, he can inspire even the most hardened criminal to have at least a shadow of a conscience and point out to another man’s fault. The prophet Ezekiel must have been aware of his own unworthiness, and yet it was to him that the Lord relayed his warning of death. It is not the prophet that possesses moral ascendancy, but the Lord. We seem to keep forgetting this, even as we see left and right the atrocities committed against God and our fellow human beings. We endlessly sink and float in our sinfulness, as if we have no hope, unmindful of the fact that we Christians have been saved by Christ through his sacrifice! Because of this, not only do we fail to resolve to be better, we even fail others in their own feeble attempts to turn toward God in genuine faith and hope! 

Jesus’ teaching on the correction of one whom we consider to be a part of us—as we are but also sinful members of the same community—reveals his magnanimity towards the flock for which he sacrificed everything he had in order to save. He shows us that this kindness for sinners is such that he advises a gradually widening ambit of selfless love, ignoring which the sinner exposes himself to danger. Jesus urges us to connect more with the sinner than to correct him: to understand him and to understand our own weaknesses. Only by this can we truly correct (from the Latin cum, ‘with,’ and regere, ‘guide,’ ‘rule’) him, showing him that true freedom is not in sin but in the Lord who compels us to save this fellow sinner. One or two others, says Jesus, may be brought in to convince the sinner that aggrieving a fellow Christian is not only an individual offense but also a scandal to others; only if this fails can the additions stand as witnesses before the community. Even in the failure of the Church to keep the sinner into the fold of righteousness, we do not see a fatal consequence; contrary to what is historically expected, the sinner is left alive, albeit treated as someone who was never a part of the community in the first place. There is something implied here: the Christian community is a loving community, and it is the sinner by his hardheadedness who takes himself away from the Body who never wished to lose him, just as the heavenly Father did not will that that the stray sheep be lost (cf. Mt 18:14).

*****

Ivan R. Olitoqui

(Sept. 10, 2017)
 
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