23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A


     Today’s Gospel is part three of a four part series from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus teaches us how to be a Christian. St. Matthews series on how to live the Catholic life began two weeks ago we he challenged us to ask ourselves if we truly believed that Jesus was the Son of God. Then last week, having made that profession, we came to the realization that the only response to accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior is to be willing to give up everything to follow after Him who is the way the truth and the life. Today St. Matthew challenges us to take the next step and see that being Christian is not just about us and God. You see, St. Paul reminds us in our second reading that the whole Christian life can be summarized by the command to love our neighbor as yourself. While there are many different definitions of love out there, perhaps the best definition of love is “to will the good of the other”[1] As Catholics we know that what is ultimately best for both us and our neighbor is to enter into eternal life. Thus, as Christians we love our neighbor when we desire that they become a saint.

     In today Gospel, Jesus teaches us that if we want to help our brothers and sisters get to heaven we must warn them if they have gone astray due to sin. The prophet Ezekiel reminds us “if you do not speak to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death.”[2] The warning of the prophet is clear: we will be responsible if we fail to call to task a brother or sister who has strayed to task. There are times in life where we must admonish the sinner in love because his salvation is in jeopardy. If you saw your baby brother running around a busy street would you not do everything in your power to warn him of the dangers? Why then wouldn’t we warn our bother or sister when they are risking their eternal life by living in sin?

     In this call to love our neighbor as ourselves we must have a deep compassion and a great concern for the salvation of others. Yet even when done in the proper spirit, calling out a brother or sister is not easy because no one likes to have our sins or faults pointed out. Sadly, in our society today the reality of sin is not as obvious as it used to be. We live in a culture that cries for the necessity of tolerance. The only sin our world seems to recognize is the failure of someone to be tolerant of someone’s lifestyle choice. Our world tells us that to truly love someone we must be loving and accepting of everything they do. Our culture, while trying to tell us to love everyone has a completely wrong understanding of love for love does not equal tolerance, it equals willing the best for another.

     This false understanding of love in our culture leads to the belief that we should not judge. Certainly, as Christians we are called not to judge another person, but we do judge things all the time. When you drove to Mass today did you not have to make a judgment about whether it was safe or not to make the turn into our parking lot? We simply cannot avoid making judgments, after all the decision not to judge is a judgment in itself. Regardless of our beliefs we must make judgments about actions all the time. We do not judge the person, but rather we judge their actions in an attempt to assist them on the path to heaven. As the old adage goes we love the sinner but hate the sin. With this adage in mind we must always be careful that when we warn someone about sin in their life we do it in a spirit of charity with the recognition that we are all sinners. The warning must come from a place that recognizes we warn them because we love them and want them to enjoy eternal life, and not from a place of vengeance or attempt to judge them.

     Friends, we can’t confuse tolerance for love. We must understand that true love desires the best for another and if that means calling out a sinful action to help a person on the path of salvation then love demands that we do so charitably. As Christians, we are called to leave no man behind on the path of salvation, which means we must first look at ourselves and remove the sin from our life, and then turn to our neighbor and assist them along the path of salvation. Ultimately this call to love sometimes includes a tough love that calls us to initiate forgiveness and healing even when we may not be popular for it, but if we truly love someone we will mete out the tough love because it could be a matter of spiritual life or death.

[1] Aquinas, Summa Theologica I-II 25,4,corp art

[2] EZ 33:8

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