August 12, 2020
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
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.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.
If he refuses to listen even to the Church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-20)
Here is the audio of the homily I delivered this morning:
This is the text of the homily originally delivered at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis in September of 2017:
Instructing His disciples, Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.”
The reading takes us in an interesting direction. Are we being called to judge our fellow man? This certainly is not in line with modern thought. The strong message coming from society is that everyone has a right to do as they please, with no moral boundaries.
Being judgmental also flies in the face of foundational Christian ideals – hospitality and welcome to all, celebration of the diversity and unique gifts of others. Didn’t Jesus say, “Stop judging, that you may not be judged”?
It is important to note that today’s readings focus not on judging others, but rather on holding others accountable…accountable for their decisions, words, or actions. The readings tell us it is our responsibility to hold others accountable. In addition, Jesus told us to be direct in our approach: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.” You go and tell him his fault.
As a high school administrator, I have often used the expression, chain of communication. When an issue arises between two people, it is those two people who should begin the process of working through that issue. The further apart on the chain we get – the more links between us and the other person – the less effective the communication.
We should not rely on others to do our dirty work. Communicating directly is always best. To do otherwise relegates the issue to hearsay or gossip.
Of course, that is easier said than done. It can be uncomfortable to approach someone about something they have said or done, or call them to task for their actions.
Holding someone else accountable, especially a loved one, is challenging. We don’t want to appear to be self-righteous or judgmental. And if you are anything like me, you have enough trouble holding yourself accountable, much less anyone else.
For most people, it is an uncomfortable thing to do.
I have shared stories about Shirley in the past. Shirley is my elderly neighbor. About eight years ago, I came home on a hot summer day to find Shirley pushing a lawnmower up the incline of a ditch near the street. Although I did not know her well at the time, I was moved to offer her help. I stopped her, told her I would finish mowing her yard, and that her days of cutting grass were over. I told her, and I quote, “You’ll never have to worry about your yard again.”
Shirley has no problem holding me accountable. I told her she would never have to worry about her yard again and she holds me to it.
If she feels like her grass is overdue to be mowed, I’ll get a phone call from her. After receiving these types of calls on a regular basis, I was frustrated. The frustration came out the next time she called. I was nice, but I pushed back. I assured her that her yard was not that bad. I shared how busy I was and explained that I just hadn’t had the time to get it done.
Her response? “Well, I see that you got your grass cut.”
Ouch! But you know what? She taught me something. She was right. I made a commitment to her and had put my own needs – my yard – before hers. Shirley spoke to me directly and held me accountable.
A direct approach comes with risk and makes us uncomfortable. We have no problem with sending a letter to a government official about bad policy or an e-mail to a television station about inappropriate programming. We can even manage critiquing someone who works for us, pointing out areas of their work that need improved.
However, we struggle when it comes to speaking directly to people we care about regarding their behavior or lifestyle. Holding someone accountable is risky.
Telling friends that their drinking or extra-marital relationships are damaging and sinful and wrong…and risk losing a friend.
Telling adult children that they are making poor moral decisions or chiding them about not going to Mass…and risk alienation.
Telling spouses that the words they use or the way they treat you is hurtful…and risk receiving an angry defensive response.
Again – holding someone accountable is risky.
It can also leave you feeling guilty, wondering if you have overstepped your responsibility. There are three simple questions you can ask yourself to determine if you have done the right thing:
*One – “Were the behaviors I addressed harmful to that person, to others around him, or to his relationship with God?”
If so, you not only chose to do the right thing, you had an obligation to do so.
*Two – “Was my intent to bring that person into right relationship with himself, others, or God?”
This is a critical question and you need to be honest. You have done the right thing if your intent was pure. You have not done the right thing if your intent was to demean or ridicule that person, or assume a stance of moral superiority. Was it about him or about you?
*And three – “Was there love in my heart?”
Here is a beautiful definition of love I came across: Love is willing the good of the other.
If we remain indifferent or uninvolved for fear of hurting someone’s feelings, that is not love, that is protecting yourself.
In other words, if we acted with love in our heart, we did the right thing.
Notice that one of my questions was not, “Did I get the result I wanted?”
Even if you did everything perfectly, you may not get the result you wanted. You may in fact lose a friend, alienate a child, or anger a spouse. As I said, holding those you care about accountable is risky.
However, it’s not as risky as not holding them accountable.