TWENTY-THIRD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Reproof for Good and Remonstration
First Reading ( Ez 33:7-9 ) : The way to warning each other of mistakes
Second Reading ( Rom 13:8-10 ) : Love is the fulfillment of the law.
Gospel ( Mt 18:15-20 ) : The path of correcting one's brothers
-“Therefore when a case of unrighteous conduct is concerned, a son must by no means keep from remonstrating with his father, nor a minister from remonstrating with his ruler. Hence, since remonstrance is required in the case of unrighteous conduct, how can obedience to the orders of a father be accounted filial piety?” (1)
-“To urge one another to what is good by reproofs is the way of friends.” (2)
“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.” ( Mt 18:15 )p.142
When treading the path of correcting each other, one must take note to find the appropriate time and place, and voice one's heartfelt concerns honestly and with humility. The Gospel passage above urges us to do this ‘when the two of you are alone’, not in a public area that might embarrass the other.
The Prophet Ezekiel also said, ‘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.’ (Ez 33:7-9)
We must be responsible for the salvation of our brothers and sisters. If we do not speak out or warn the other, then we are responsible for the other's fall from grace. We cannot be like Cain who said to God, “Can it be that I am my brother's keeper?’
Actually it is true, we really are ‘keepers’, that is, responsible for our brothers and sisters. That is part of our duty to love one another. In the Epistle to the Romans the Apostle Paul says, “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 neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.’ ( Rom 13:8-10 )
In this Scripture passage we see clearly that in the Catholic faith we are to proceed from emphasizing God to gradually turn to loving other human persons.
As Biblical inspiration developed, the first emphasis was on loving God. But when people asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment of them all, Jesus placed God and human beings on the same level: “Love God above all and love your neighbor as yourself.” When they asked him “which one of the commandments?” he answered with two. In Jesus' mind, the two were really only one, that is to say, there was only one commandment with two parts.
By the time of the Apostle Paul, he said that all the commandments were contained in only one: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And mutual correction was one of the manifestations of love.
Confucius said, “To urge one another to what is good by reproofs is the way of friends.”(2) This saying especially deserves the reflection of us Chinese people because Chinese culture puts a strong emphasis on restraint and Chinese people prefer to be indirect. When we want to refuse a person, we would not say so directly. We would give a number of reasons so that the person would understand that we were refusing him/ her.
“Reproof” is an embarrassing business. It is very difficult for us Chinese to point out others' mistakes. However, both the Bible and Chinese culture ask us to reprove each other. “When you and he are alone,” indicates that we should choose a suitable situation and environment to correct the person.
Within Chinese culture, not only should friends reprove each other, children should also reprove their parents. In The Classics of Filial Piety, Zeng Zi asked Confucius, “Teacher, I would venture to ask if obedience to the orders of one's father can be regarded as filial piety?"
Confucius replied, "What words are these! What words are these!” What are you saying? In the past, if “ the Son of Heaven had seven ministers who would remonstrate with him, although he had not right methods of government, he would not lose his possession of the kingdom”. That is to say, in ancient times, if an emperor had seven ministers who would advise and remonstrate with him, even though he could not rule the kingdom in an upright manner, he would not lose it. “If the prince of a state had five such ministers, though his measures might be equally wrong, he would not lose the state.” For a prince, if he had five ministers who would advise and remonstrate with him, even though he did not do very well, he would not lose his state. “The father who had a son that would remonstrate with him would not sink into the gulf of unrighteous deeds.”(1) If a father had a son who would advise and remonstrate with him, he would not do unrighteous things.
Confucius concluded that: “Therefore when a case of unrighteous conduct is concerned, a son must by no means keep from remonstrating with his father, nor a minister from remonstrating with his ruler. Hence, since remonstrance is required in the case of unrighteous conduct, how can obedience to the orders of a father be accounted filial piety?”(1) That is to say, if there is a case of unrighteous conduct, we must bring it to the attention of our fathers and advise them accordingly. The same goes for a minister. He should alert and advise his king. If there is a case of unrighteous conduct, we should remonstrate and advise our fathers. If we do not do this and simply listen to and obey our fathers, how can we call it “filial piety”?
Later, in the chapter “How Zeng Zi Treated His Parents” in The Great Book of Rites, this attitude of advising and reproving was called “to correct by remonstration”. The book also said, “To obey without remonstration, it is not filial piety”. That is to say if we simply obey our parents and not reprove them when they are wrong, we are not “filial sons”. Those sons who reprove and remonstrate with their parents when the latter are wrong are called “remonstrating sons”.
Throughout our whole life, we should pay close attention to righteousness. “When there is unrighteous conduct, we must remonstrate.” When there is unrighteous or unjust conduct, we should stand up and remonstrate. When something is wrong, we should voice our disapproval. When our friends have done something wrong, we should reprove and remonstrate with them.
Of course none of this should spring from self-righteousness, nor from a sense of ‘I think you are wrong and I blame you and admonish you.’ Each of us should be enlightened by Truth and in faith judge only ourselves.
Actually the ultimate Judge should be God only and Jesus Christ and his revelation as found in Scripture. Only if we live a life of faith and walk according to the Truth are we qualified to correct our parents or other people.
O Loving Heavenly Father, help us to always live according to your word so that we are able to correct each other according to Truth and live lives enlightened by Truth.