In today's first reading, the Lord tells the prophet Ezekiel that he is the watchman for the house of Israel. Ezekiel must warn others when they sin; otherwise he will be held responsible for their sin. Once he warns someone, Ezekiel will not be held responsible for any sin they might commit and he will save himself.
Who are our watchmen today? Most people would probably say that our religious leaders, our bishops, priests, and even our deacons are watchmen. As clergy, we clearly are responsible for warning others when they are sinning.
But, all of us, as Christians, as followers of Christ, are watchmen. We are all responsible for warning others about their sinful behavior. This is not a duty to be taken lightly as we hear in the first reading. If we are negligent in this duty, we can be held responsible for someone's spiritual death.
It is difficult to reconcile this responsibility with today's attitude toward sin and truth. If I were to tell someone that it can be a sin for him to miss mass on Sunday, he would probably say to me that he doesn't believe this and that I should keep my opinions to myself. He might also comment that I am being intolerant of him and am judging him.
Reminding someone that what they are doing is not right is never easy. When we do this, we might be successful in getting someone to change or we might be told to get lost. We all should shudder when we read today’s passage from Ezekiel where God tells Ezekiel “if you do not speak to the wicked person about their wickedness, I will hold you responsible for the consequences of his or her wrongdoing.” We all may have a lot to answer for because of things that we didn’t say or do.
Love should be the motivation behind any form of fraternal correction. Paul tells us today: “owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.” We shouldn’t go around finding fault with people because we enjoy it. We should do it because we love them and we hate to see them doing things that will cause themselves harm, either spiritually or physically.
Often our words of wisdom or encouragement, even if offered in love, fall on deaf ears. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us one more way to help our brother or sister who is straying from the path of righteousness. Jesus encourages prayer for the person. As a matter of fact, even before we dare offer advice or criticism to another, we should pray for the right words and then if we are told to mind our own business, we should keep on praying for them. St James summarized our efforts in this area when he said: “whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
There is no human power greater than truth spoken in love, but this power does not protect us from retaliation. When Pilate asked Jesus , "are you a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.". Then Pilate promptly ordered Jesus to be crucified.
Jesus doesn't promise we won't suffer for speaking the truth. But he says, "If you seek to save your life on this earth, you will lose it. How do you profit if you gain the whole world and lose your own soul." We are not on earth to save our lives- or our jobs or our relationships with others if we have to suppress the truth to keep them. Rather we are here to testify to the truth. The person we will be for all eternity will be determined by how well we do that.
We all need to help each other on our spiritual journey, to be watchmen for one another. At St Francis, there are groups of spirit-filled men and women who meet regularly- including bible studies, faith sharing, marriage encounter and CRHP. As we get to know each other and to know our joys and sorrows, our strengths and weaknesses, it is a great opportunity to share our struggles with each other and to provide some assistance, some fraternal correction, to each other. If you are not already a member of one of these groups, I would encourage you to join one. We all can learn from each other's successes and failures.