By Fr. Matt Keller, C.PP.S.
Paul in our scriptures today instructs us “to love one another” (Romans 13: 8). On the surface we like this instruction, this instruction gives us a warm fuzzy feeling inside, and many easily jump on board to follow this instruction without giving any thought. I mean who would object to loving one another?
It is easy to love another who thinks like me, and it is easy to love another who listens to me. But can I love another who is opposite of me, who thinks differently than me, and who does not listen to me? When I think about the one who is opposite of me and the invitation to love, this invitation has me second guessing myself—not so much if I could follow this instruction but if I even want to. It can be hard to love someone who is different.
In our Scriptures today, through Ezekiel and Jesus we are given examples to love in a way that can make us feel uncomfortable. We are instructed today on the importance of confronting the wicked and sinners about their wrong. We may like the idea of confronting the wicked and sinners, but sometimes doing this can make us feel very uncomfortable. Many, me included, fear the negative response that I might get when I speak up. Will they even listen to what I have to say?
Ezekiel points out if we do not speak up, the wicked will die because of their sin, and we will be responsible for their death because we did not speak up. We do not want to be responsible for another person’s death so we need to speak up. Perhaps we are looking at it a different way: rather than speaking up to confront the wicked or the sinner, what we are called to do is confront the situation. We speak up to the wicked or the sinner because we care, because we love the wicked or the sinner.
But what if they will not listen when we speak to them? Jesus gives us a practical solution: speak one on one, and if that does not work, “take one or two others along with you” (Matthew 18: 15). If that does not work, tell the church, and if that does not work then treat them “as you would a Gentile or tax collector” (Matthew 18: 17).
We might interpret treating a Gentile or tax collector as treating them like dirt. Many in the culture of Jesus’ time would have treated these people this way. If we look to Jesus’ example, he did not. Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors with love, respect and dignity as he ate and socialized with them. And it is usually when he spent time with them that there was a change of heart.
For example, when Jesus spent time at Zacchaeus’s house, Zacchaeus said “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have exhorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over” (Luke 19:8).
For it is when we treat the wicked and sinners with love, dignity, respect and Christ’s light that we make darkness, wickedness, and sinners uncomfortable and it fights but flees away. Hearts get changed and we win over.
To view the full scripture reading, click here.
Fr. Matt Keller, C.PP.S., is the pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in Glandorf, Ohio.