O God, by Whom we are redeemed and receive adoption, look graciously upon Your beloved sons and daughters, that those who believe in Christ may receive true freedom and an everlasting inheritance... Collect for the 23rd Sunday
The Truth Shall Set You Free... by Bishop Richard Henning
First reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9 Responsorial: Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 Second reading: Romans 13:8-10 Gospel passage: Matthew 18:15-20
I suppose that we would all agree that the truth is a good thing. From an early age we are taught to tell the truth. Philosophers and scientists seek the truth. No one wishes to be seen as a liar and we pepper our speech with phrases like “to tell you the truth” or “the truth is..”
And yet, the truth is more complex, is it not? Truth can be elusive. How easy it is to hide the truth from others and even from ourselves. Hypocrisy, denial, and deception are endemic to human life and society. And there are times when truth emerges through the fog only to cause heartache. Are some truths best left unspoken?
In the first reading from Ezekiel we have a defense of speaking the truth even when the news may be unwelcome. Ezekiel had the unenviable task of warning Israel of its loss of faith and the approach of destructive forces. This passage uses the image of the prophet as the watchman for Israel. The watchman is an essential part of the defense of a people. Most can rest only because some remain alert to danger. In this passage, the image of watchman is used in a more personal way. The Lord commissions the prophet to alert individuals to the dangers inherent in their own sins. The task is so essential that the prophet will be held responsible for the deaths of the wicked if he does not remain alert and warn the sinner.
Psalm 95 which follows acclaims the greatness and goodness of the Lord and it touches on the need for our response to the Lord’s care for us. If we hear His voice, we must listen with our hearts. That voice may speak comfort in our suffering or it may challenge us in our sins. In either case, we may not live in denial.
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans is a hymn to grace. Paul rejoices in, and proclaims, the gracious will of God Who loves all of His children. As we saw last week, that gift of God’s Self is one side of a mutual relationship. We are called to a human existence renewed and exalted by the life and sacrifice of Christ. Having been redeemed by love, we enter into the Divine life by choosing to love in return. At its foundation, discipleship is not a creed or a list of community rules. It is a relationship that begins with the experience of love and thrives by the maturing growth of that love. And so in this passage, Paul draws on Jesus’ teaching to remind the Romans of the primacy of love in the Christian life.
In the gospel passage, taken from Matthew, we hear part of Jesus’ instructions to His Church. In this instance, Jesus speaks of the painful reality of the unrepentant sinner in the midst of the community and provides means to bring the sinner back to communion. In cases where the person refuses to respond, Jesus’ words provide for the protection of the community.
On the surface, it may appear that Jesus’ instructions contradict the principle laid out by Paul and other instances in Jesus’ ministry. Did Jesus not minister to Gentiles and tax collectors? How does he now propose the shunning of sinners? Of course, there is no contradiction because the kind of correction that Jesus proposes is the prophetic truth telling that is so necessary in human communities plagued by the temptation to lies and self-deception. In the warning of the Christian community and in the warnings issued by the prophetic “watchman” in Ezekiel, notice that there is no hint of force or coercion. The hearers are free to love and equally free to make the tragic decision to reject the Lord of Life. The principle spoken of by Paul holds, even in correction, the motive and the goal is one of love for neighbor and love for God.
While the gospel today cautions us against rushing to judgment, it also teaches us that proclaiming the truth in charity is essential to the Christian life and to Christian community. Indeed, the truth does set us free, but first it may make us miserable. The truth is strong medicine and sometimes comes with a bitter taste. But ultimately, the truth is a form of love that summons us to return to God and to ourselves. If we are to love freely and trust God, then we must be willing to let go of our lies – even the ones we may tell to ourselves.