September 6, 2020 at St. Peter and St William Churches in Naples, FL
Ezekiel 23, 7-9 + Psalm 95 + Roman 13, 8-10 + Matthew 18, 15-20
My father had a few old sayings that in my adult life I have begun to wonder about and question very seriously. Some of them were sillier than others. Some of them were wise and thoughtful. Some others I have come to question. When I would leave the house at night with friends, there was always the shout: “Don’t do nothin’ stupid!” To say that my father was a lot like Archie Bunker would be an exaggeration, he hated the show, but I always thought it was insightful and revealing. In the wisdom category would say: “Don’t buy more than you can pay for.” However, there is one saying that has been a problem for me, and when it is believed and followed, it becomes a serious matter for all of us. He would say now and then: “Mind your own business.” Now, in his favor, I can allow that he may have been talking about gossip; but when applied too broadly, something goes wrong.
In an age of blame when responsibility is often shifted away from one’s self the instruction of this Gospel is very much to the point. Just a few moments ago, you all stood up. Sometimes I wonder if you know why. The easy answer is that it’s just what we Catholics do for the reading of the Gospel. I would like to suggest to you that it’s much more than a custom. In fact, if that is what it has become we’re in trouble. We stand for the Gospel because we are the presence of Christ who has come to speak to us. I don’t like all the other implication of this comparison, but in a court room, everyone stands when the Judge enters because the judge is going to say something. Now, Jesus speaks to us today, and he gives us some serious instructions about a serious matter that is close to his heart: forgiveness and unity that is preserved by reconciliation.
Something about us always likes the third step in the process that Matthew has handed on to us. The three steps were nothing new. This was a process already in effect in Jewish communities and described in great detail in the Old Testament. Having instructed us a couple of weeks back about binding and losing, Jesus now reinforces that instruction to make it clear that every effort must be made to keep the community together, and not lose anyone for lack of attention. Yet, something about us always prefers to take a short cut and go for the third step first. I cannot count the times when as a Pastor someone came into my office demanding that I “do something” about this or that person or behavior that needed attention. Forget about the first two steps, just go for the big guns is the attitude, and it hardly ever works.
I think about this as I can count the number of times when things have gone terribly wrong because people decided to mind their own business and say nothing when something was wrong. It creates a kind of silence that is terrible. It happens in families and among friends who live their lives tiptoeing around one another avoiding speaking up about something that is hurting everyone. Alcoholism, Drug abuse, physical abuse victimizes other people, and fear is the controlling agent. We all know he script: “Say nothing.” “Don’t bring that up.” What good will it do?” “You’ll never change their minds.” And so, there is silence, deadly silence while hearts scream in anguish and spirits shrivel up and die.
We have suffered from this as a church partly because no one said anything or spoke up when trusted people broke the trust. We have suffered from this as families when silence prevails and we watch someone destroy their life or their future. We can talk all we want about how the church should do something, about how someone else should put a stop to something, but when we skip the first two steps, it is more likely that there will be no alternative except to expel and break our relationships which the first two steps strive to maintain.
So, Jesus is speaking today. Jesus is breaking the silence and teaching us to take care of one another, to stop trying to find an easy way to avoid expressing our love and concern for someone who is hurting themselves and hurting others. Love must be the driving force, not anger, vengeance, or judgement. Just simply love that springs from our desire to be one, to be whole, to be holy.