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Fernando Armellini - Sun, Sep 10th 2023



The mentality of this world evaluates people against the success they achieve, the qualities they have, and the wealth they accumulate. It influences Christians in a subtle, almost imperceptible way, like a snake creeping between the cracks of a rock. The genius, athletes, eminent personalities, anyone who proves they possess special aptitudes are sought after and admired. The weak, the poor, the unskilled, and the disabled seem almost cumbersome baggage to many people—even if it is difficult to admit.

The community that boasts of its ‘heroes’ feels an unacknowledged rejection of sinners, considering them as ballast, dry branches or a ‘disgrace’ for the whole family. It shows the assimilation of the criteria of this world, not those of God, who is in love with the last, and those who do not count. He declared his love to the most significant of the people, Israel, thus: “You are precious in my sight, and important—for I have loved you” (Is 43:4).

Jesus promotes an identical view: ‘the small ones’ are at the center of his community’s attention. They are God’s treasure, the precious pearl for which it is worthwhile scouring every corner of the world; the jewel that brings overflowing joy to whoever finds it (Mt 13:44-46). The rabbis said: “The Lord rejoices in the resurrection of the righteous and the destruction of the wicked.” The God of Jesus is more pleased when a sinner returns than over the 99 that did not go astray (Mt 18:13).

Only if we are included among the righteous of God who “has chosen the poor” (Jas 2:5) and turns his gaze on the humble (Is 66:2), we are in the proper disposition to grasp the message of today’s readings.


  • To internalize the message, we repeat:“Experience the joy of the Lord who brings a brother to life.”


First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9

Thus says the Lord: You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. If I tell the wicked, “O wicked one, you shall surely die,” and you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, the wicked shall die for ==============0his guilt, but I will hold you responsible for his death. But if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself. 


“Do I want the death of the sinner?—says the Lord God. Do I not rather want him to turn from his ways and live?” (Ezk 18:23). The concern of the Lord is that the human being choose paths of death. For this, he appoints Ezekiel as a watchman and instructs him to keep a look out (v. 7). Against whom?—we ask. Who is the approaching enemy that threatens to annihilate Israel? Although it may seem strange, it is the Lord who is about to strike his people with the most serious of misfortunes: the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the deportation of its citizens to a foreign land.

What must Ezekiel do? He must act as the sentinel sounding the trumpet give the alarm warning everyone to get to safety. The image of the coming of the Lord to punish the people frequently occurs in the Bible. To almost every precept there is an added promise that good will come to whoever observes the warning and the threat of punishment for those who do not (Deut 28). God does not actually punish. It is sin that leads humans to destruction. The Lord wants to save; whoever turns away from the path of life God traced decrees their own death.

In today’s passage, the passion and care of God for people are highlighted dramatically. The salvation of his people is close to God’s heart. He threatens Ezekiel with death if he does not alert the Israelites and put them on guard against the danger they face. Failure to heed the warning will lead to ruin. A prophet is a man with a solid spiritual sensitivity. He is the first one to understand the ways of the Lord. He immediately assesses the people's decisions as complying with or deviance from the thought of God. Therefore, he must intervene, speak honestly, and admonish anyone in danger of turning away from God. If he does not fulfill this mission, he is responsible for the ruin of his brothers and sisters (v. 8). If he admonishes those who misbehave and do not listen, he is free from guilt (v. 9).

Every Christian is a prophet, a sentinel, and therefore partly responsible for the fate of his brothers and sisters.

Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10

Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, 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 kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law. 


In Chapter 13 of the Letter to the Romans, Paul deals with the citizen's duties toward the state. Christians wondered to what extent their loyalty should be given. What position should they take towards institutions incompatible with the Gospel of Christ? How should they deal with an eccentric emperor like Nero? Many were dissatisfied with the current political system, and maybe some Christians were among those who thought of joining a revolt.

In the opening verses of the chapter (vv. 1-7), Paul exhorts them not to take risks, act as exemplary citizens, respectful of the leaders, laws, and property of the state. In the second part (vv. 8-10), which is resumed in today’s reading, Paul enunciates a general principle that sheds light not only on this but any moral problem.

When we do not know how to behave or are unsure about what choices to make, we must refer to the commandment, which is the basis of all the law: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 9). All other precepts are derived from it. They are nothing more than their detailed specification. Anyone who tries to do only good to his brother or sister indeed observes all the commandments. If this principle is kept in mind, it is easy to understand that all state laws, provided they promote the common good, must be observed, and it would be sinful to break them. However, if a law (of the state, the Church, or any other institution) is contrary to this precept, the Christian has not only the right but the duty to disobey.


Gospel: Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus said to his disciples: “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. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

To not misinterpret the meaning of this passage, it is necessary to place it in context. The whole chapter from which it is taken (cf. Matthew 18) is about the rapport among the Christian community members. It addresses who should be considered the first, greatest and smallest, how to avoid scandals, what attitude to take towards anyone who turns away from the faith, how to develop love and promote harmony among the disciples, how often must one grant forgiveness.

Today we are invited to reflect on Jesus’ recommendations on how to recover the one who failed or got lost. To understand, we must pay attention to the context the introductory sentence places the story in. Unfortunately, it is not reported in today’s Gospel: “Your Father in heaven doesn’t want even one of these little ones to perish” (v. 14). All recommendations must come in response to this one goal, to bring back to life those who have made or are making choices of death. Of course, it is up to the shepherd to search for the lost, wounded, or at risk of falling into a bottomless and dark ravine. However, every Christian is a shepherd to his brother and sister. No one can ask like Cain did: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

The law of love requires a commitment to bringing our brother or sister back onto the right path, but how to proceed in such a delicate circumstance is unclear? A mistake must be avoided: gossiping or spreading stories of what has been done wrongly. This is defamation. It serves only to marginalize those who did wrong and to humiliate them. It makes them increasingly stubborn in their evil ways and is a cause of needless suffering. It is equivalent to losing the opportunity of recovery forever.

Some think that having spoken the truth, their minds can be at rest. But the truth is not the absolute value. Love is the reference point. Truth can be a block to love, can destroy coexistence and good relations rather than promote them. Defamation can destroy a person: “The lash of the tongue shatters bones” (Sir 28:17)—kill a brother or sister, ruin a family, break a relationship. How can anyone deny the wisdom in the popular saying: ‘Better a well-told lie than an inappropriate truth?’

The truth that does not produce love, but causes anxiety, creates discord, hatred and resentment is a lie. We cannot tell everything that is true or everything we know. We must not, above all, tell the truth to those who want to use it for evil. The truth that kills is evil; it comes from the evil one, “who has been a murderer from the beginning. He is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44).

Let us see what Jesus suggests about ‘telling the truth’ to someone in danger of being lost. The path to follow is split into three stages.

First: we must talk personally to the brother or sister, face to face. Everything must be resolved in secret to prevent someone from finding out what happened. This first attempt is the most delicate first because it is demanding and decidedly unwelcome. Everyone prefers to confide in others rather than confront the person concerned. Then it is not easy to find the right words. We can mismanage the subject. An exaggerated adjective may be uttered inadvertently. Sometimes an out-of-place emphasis puts an end to everything. If the person is injured, they may close up. We may have acted with the best of intentions but ended up losing a friend, as well as failing in our mission.

In this situation, today’s Second Reading offers a thought that may be helpful: to put ourselves in the same situation and try to imagine what we would want others to do for us. If this first attempt does not produce the desired result, the second step is to ask for help from one or two sensible and wise brothers or sisters in the community. Never forget the goal: the recovery of the brother or sister.  We should never give the impression of cornering anyone or putting them in front of someone looking merely to convict. We must as we would with a friend, and be willing to testify to their good disposition.

The last stage is recourse to the community. This can happen only when the sin committed risks disturbing the brothers and sisters, especially those who are weak in the faith. If so, and the culprit does not want to amend, they must be considered ‘a pagan and a publican.’ Taken literally, this recommendation squeals out of Jesus’ lips, who has just warned the disciples: “See that you do not despise any of these little ones” (v. 10).How is it possible that “the friend of publicans and sinners” (Mt 11:19) is pronouncing such a harsh judgment?

If it is not understood in the right way, the phrase seems strange even for the Gospel of Matthew, where we often find reference to the Church as not being composed only of saints but also of sinners. It is a field where wheat and weeds grow. It is a net that snares all types of fish. It is a feast where good and bad alike are welcome. How can we explain why the community should drive out an unrepentant sinner? We cannot put a single phrase of Jesus at odds with the rest of the Gospel. One thing is sure: the community does not have the right to expel one of its members who misbehave just because it feels they are a burden or an inconvenience. The sinner is always a son or daughter, and no mother is ashamed of her child. However, we cannot deny that the Church has the right and even the duty to speak words of denunciation or condemnation. Jesus has given her the power to bind and loose and has promised to ratify her decisions from heaven (v. 18).

The phrase ‘binding and loosing’ is well-known. The rabbis used it to indicate their authority to declare a particular moral behavior lawful or forbidden and to impose or revoke the exclusion from the community.

The responsibility entrusted to the Church is great. She is called to declare authentically what thoughts, feelings, and choices are according to the Gospel and which ones move away from Christ. She does not cast out, condemn, or punish anyone but only helps everyone become aware of certain ramifications.

In the fulfillment of this delicate mission, the Church must never forget another hard saying of the Lord: “How can you say to your neighbor, friend, let me take the speck out of your eye when you can't remove the log in your own? You hypocrite! First, remove the log from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your neighbor’s eye” (Lk 6:41-42). However, in the light of the Gospel, she must unequivocally declare the expulsion of those who place themselves outside communion with Christ and the community.

The way to perform this service can and must change depending on the sensitivity and evolution of pedagogical concepts which—as we know—develop through the centuries. There was a time when they proceeded in a rather strict way: “who committed serious moral failing was removed from the community” (1 Cor 5:1-5). It was feared that ignoring or passing over outrageous and sometimes ostentatious public behavior in silence would likely confuse the weaker members. So, too, if someone falsified or distorted the Gospel message, they were publicly reprimanded: “If anyone promotes sects in the church, warn him once and then a second time … if he still continues … expel him” (Tit 3:10). The community certainly cannot tolerate anyone preaching insane doctrines in the name of Christ.

Today these forms of ex-communication are no longer practiced. Pastoral choices are different, but the goal remains the same: to enlighten the brother or sister, help him or her realize their inconsistency and encourage them to change. “If someone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take note and do not have anything to do with him, so that he may be ashamed. However, do not treat him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother”(2 Thes 3:14-15). To achieve this result, we should be clear that the measures taken against them are dictated only by love, not by the desire to ‘separate them’ from a community that considers itself perfect. If we can make them aware that they are no longer in full communion with their brothers and sisters in faith, we can arouse in them a healthy nostalgia for the Father’s house, and the desire and the need to return can emerge in him.

The concluding verses (vv. 19-20) are the last reminder of the value attributed by Jesus to ‘getting together’ and seeking agreement among the community members. The harmony and the unity of purpose manifest themselves in the consciousness of the presence of the Risen Lord in their midst, and with him, in prayer, they turn to the Father. The only one who has entered in a harmony of thought and feeling with God and with the brothers and sisters can feel safe to interpret the mind of the Lord when ‘he binds’ and when ‘he looses.’


READ: We are mandated to love our neighbors. Jesus talks of the need to be committed to the spiritual well-being of our brothers and sisters.


REFLECT: We are responsible for each other. We are accountable for the good and evil that everyone does.


PRAY: To be responsible for others is to take care of and develop them. Let us ask for the grace to be more caring and compassionate. Let us pray for some persons who need conversion of heart.


ACT: Show genuine care for someone today rather than simply saying that we do. Identify a person who needs gentle correction and do it respectfully and lovingly.

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