Sunday, September 4, 2011

Watchmen for Israel

Homily from the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year A

Last year I went to the Notre Dame/Michigan football game with a couple friends and we enjoyed the game for the most part.  I say “for the most part” not because Notre Dame lost.  But because of the bad behavior of the people sitting one row in front of us.

The young people sitting in front of us that day had clearly done their unfair share of tailgating beforehand.  To put it bluntly, they were highly intoxicated and their inebriation quickly turned into rudeness and foul language.

The pair were a brother and sister and they were having a “discussion” of some sort, about what exactly I don’t remember.  I do remember however, the brother beginning to drop a number of unpleasant curse words.  He began to use four-letter words like they were article adjectives.

So, one of my buddies immediately asked him to watch his language.  And this fellow immediately got defensive and belligerent.  “You want me to watch my language? Why?” he smugly asked.  “Because it’s offensive” my friend replied.  “Really?” the guy asked. “My language offends you?”  And he kept turning around after every single play and asking my friend, “My language offends you?”

He was upset that someone called him out on his bad behavior and got defensive and responded the only way he could which was to be a jerk.

This continued for several plays.  Then someone else sitting near us chimed in and told the guy to pipe down and watch his language.  The guy retorted with the same witty response: “My language offends you? What’s your problem dude?”

Finally, I had had enough.  I was dressed in what priests call “civvies.” That means civilian clothes. I didn’t have my collar on.  But I decided to do something I almost never do which is to pull the priest “trump card.”  I leaned in to him and said, “Look, I’m a priest and you’re drunk. And that usher down there at the end of the row is going to believe me and not you. So you can either turn around and be quiet and enjoy the rest of the game or we can ask him to remove you from the stadium.”

He just stared at me.  And it wasn’t an “Oh no, I’m in trouble stare.” It was more like an “If you weren’t a priest and all these people were around you, I’d punch your lights out” stare.

I just stared back.  There was no way I was going to break first.  It was kind of like when you get into a staring contest with your dog when you want to show it who’s boss.
Finally, someone broke the tension and told the guy, “Hey, he’s a priest, why don’t you go to confess your sins?”  I said, “Yeah sure, I’ll forgive you if you’re sorry.”

He tuned around and watched the game.  Then two plays later he turned around to my buddy and said, “My language offends you?”  That was the last straw.  My buddy got the usher and he was escorted out of the stadium.

We followed the four-step process of admonishing the sinner that Jesus prescribes in our Gospel today.
Step one: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.”  That’s what my buddy did when he first asked him to watch his language.

Step two: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’”  That’s what happened when someone else sitting next to him asked him to pipe down.

Step three: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.”  That’s what happened when I spoke up and nearly became a martyr.

Step four: “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or tax collector.”  That’s what happened when the usher kicked him out. We treated him as we would a Gentile, or a tax collector, or a Michigan fan.

We have an obligation to correct one another when we fall into sin.  It’s one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy; to admonish the sinner.

Sometimes however, we neglect this obligation thinking that we should just mind our own business.  But when we see a brother or sister falling into sin, it becomes our business.  It’s our business because we are all interconnected members of the one Body of Christ.  And when one of us sins, it affects the whole body.  There is no such thing as a private sin.

When we see someone sinning, we have to do what we can to pull them away from sin.  To say, “Well, that’s their affair. It’s not my problem. It’s not my place to stick my nose in.” is like watching your child go chasing after a ball that rolls into the street as a car is bearing down on them and saying, “Well, that’s their affair. It’s not my problem. It’s not my place to stick my nose in.”  No, we go running after that child because we love them and we don’t want to see them get killed. We don’t want that pain in the world.

Likewise, we tried to get this guy to curb his language because, in a sense, we loved him and we didn’t want to watch him continue to harm himself by degrading his human dignity with foul language, not to mention the harm he was inflicting on everyone else sitting around him through scandal.

Some like to correct others because they are nosey busybodies and tattletales.  Others like to correct others because they like to exalt themselves and put others down.  A disciple of Jesus Christ however, corrects others out of love: love for God, love for God’s children, but most especially, love for the sinner who causes the most harm to himself through his sin.

You might say, “Why bother? They won’t listen.”  We bother because God commands us to.  God tells the prophet Ezekiel in the first reading, “You… I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel.”  It was his job to warn others when they were headed to destruction.  If he warned them and they did not listen, Ezekiel still fulfilled his responsibility.  But if he did not warn them, God would hold Ezekiel responsibility for their misdeeds.   And all of us have the same responsibility because we are all prophets. We were made so at our baptism when we were baptized priests, prophets and kings.

If we don’t intervene, and we say to ourselves, “Well, it’s not my business” then we’re no different than Adam, who when his wife took the fruit from the tree, just stood there and did nothing.  Adam’s “do nothing” attitude affected the whole Body of Christ.

Don’t do nothing.  Be a watchman for Israel. Be watchmen for one another.  You have been appointed so by God.

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