First Reading (Ezekiel 33. 7 – 9). Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 95). Second Reading
(Romans 13. 8 -10). Gospel: Matthew 18: 15 -20.
“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your
two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.” Then there is a further
process if he does not listen, and finally, “if he refuses to listen to the community, treat
him like a pagan or a tax collector.” One wonders whether Christ had anything as heinous
as child-abuse by a disciple in mind, when he gave them those practical instructions.
Ironically some who preach against permissiveness can be guilty of its grossest forms.
Permissiveness, with its tragic consequences, is symptomatic of our times. From
politicians to policemen, parents to teachers, “passing the buck” is rampant. We want the
privileges of power without its burdens. We shy away from problems, cast a blind eye,
shirk the responsibility to speak out. And when the scandal leaks out we want to claim we
didn’t know. But such ignorance is rejected in Ezekiel where the Lord says: “I have
appointed you as sentry to the House of Israel.” And he went on to state plainly: “If you
do not warn the wicked man to renounce his ways, then I will hold you responsible.”
American President Harry Truman had a card on his desk in the White House declaring
in bold capitals THE BUCK STOPS HERE!, “The buck stops here.” This message would
fit in any office where people are “their brother’s keepers.” But nowhere would it fit
better nowadays than on the kitchen mantlepiece, with its four simple words pointing
straight at us like an accusing finger. For people with others in their care, the main task is
not be to be popular but to be of help. And we help most by accepting our responsibility.
In our first reading, the prophet Ezekiel borrowed an image from war and its threat to
national survival. He knows that a people under threat needs its sentries. The real threat
that sentry Ezekiel sees, is not an attack from without, but failure of the community from
within, a breakdown that leads to death. The danger that he must warn about is the threat
of sin. This warning of Ezekiel is not directed to the community as a whole but to the
individual within it. Individual responsibility takes on a new force in his message.

Our own era too is preoccupied with problems of national and international peace and
security. For us, the watchman on the city wall is no longer a sufficient form of security.
Our world leaders feel the need of sophisticated “early-warning” devices, so that our
peace hangs upon a balance of terror. The threat of our times is no longer the fall of a city
but an international holocaust.
When Ezekiel preached he was a prisoner in enemy territory and he could warn that it
was not external force, but the enemy within, that is the real threat to life–that enemy is
sin, the abandonment of God. It is the prophetic role of the Church to continue this
preaching (even if its voice is treated like something coming from foreign soil.) The
gospel of Christ is that life and peace come from faith in God and the doing of his will.
This gospel calls us to repentance but is no mere denunciation of sin. Christ brought the
gift of reconciliation and life. One might develop this further by reflecting on how we as
a community can be a sign of what we preach, a repentant community that has found the
life and peace offered by Christ.
A reconciled community: Today’s readings confront us with two aspects of the question.
Firstly the need for a sense of individual responsibility in the way of conversion. Ezekiel
certainly made it clear that the individual is addressed by the Word of God calling for
repentance. There is no way out of this personal responsibility.
But all of this should not be seen simply in terms of what the individual owes to the
community. The whole Church is called to be supportive of each person who seeks
reconciliation. This is especially important in a world where so many people feel
threatened by the alienating force of impersonal state structures. The Church is not called
to be mega-corporation.
Individuals who are perplexed by their own failures or oppressed by the weaknesses of
others, need a community that does not drive them further into isolation but one which
calls them through forgiveness and love into the life of fellowship. Living in this
fellowship does mean that we owe debts to one another, and as Paul reminds us today the
only obligation that ultimately counts is the debt of love we owe one another.
This reconciled community will be an effective sign to the world not because it creates a
superficial harmony, but because it faces the reality of sin in itself. It finds forgiveness as

the solution to this threat. Renewal of the ministry of reconciliation in the Church
increasingly takes the form of communal services of penance, linked to the celebration of
the sacrament. This is an effective way of bringing home to people that all sin effects the
community and reconciliation must include the community.
God bless