FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 23rd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 6, 2020:
If you turn on the news at just about any moment lately, what surrounds us are stories of negativity and fear. We are in the midst of an incredibly divisive political season. The effects of racism and its response have lead to months-long protests – sometimes with violent elements. And hovering over it all is the coronavirus which continues to threaten the health and safety of the world. These are not only challenging time, but they can also be confusing times. After all, what are we do to? How are we to respond? What difference can we make? What does our faith have to say to this moment in our lives?
We could not have a more relevant answer from the Word of God than we do in our readings today. We heard in Ezekiel today, “If you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from [their] way, I will hold you responsible.” All of today’s readings beg a timeless question of us, “Am I my brother’s keeper, my sister’s keeper?” Our Scriptures answer that question with a definitive “yes” today. As Christians, we know that we are called to be noticeably different than the rest of the world. To a world bent on greed, we are to be signs of selfless giving; to a world bent on violence and war, we are to be instruments of peace; to a world bent on polarization and lies, we are to be a sign of honesty and unity. And as we’ve seen recently in our country, to a world that continues to be bent on racism and prejudice, we are to be signs of acceptance, tolerance, welcome, love, and care.
Consider these situations: First, a salesman for a limo service said to a father, “Your son looks young for his age. Take a half-price ticket. If the driver questions you, just say that the boy is under 12. Save a few bucks.” If you had been that father, what would you have said? Or, a mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother what would you do? Or finally: Suppose you heard your child’s best friend say, “If you need any answers on the math test, give me a signal.” If that was your child, would you ignore it, or would you have a talk with them?
What would your response be in any of these scenarios? Our readings today give us the answer as they focus on the responsibility that every Christian has towards one another. As followers of Christ, we have a moral obligation not only to do what is right, but also to help each other do what is right. Jesus told his followers, “Your light must shine brightly before others.”
Let us return to our situations. What should a follower of Jesus say to the salesman who encouraged the father to lie? Well this is a true story. The real father told the salesman, “I appreciate where you are coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even if it works to his momentary disadvantage.” And what about the mother whose daughter stole the candy bar? Also a true story. The real mother had the child return the candy to the manager and apologize.
And, what about the children encouraging each other to cheat? Well, this too is a true story. Jerome Weidman, author of Hand of the Hunter, had this experience as a boy. As a child in school, his third grade math teacher, Mrs. O’Neill, gave her class a test one day. When grading the tests, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same strange answer to one question. The next day she asked the boys to remain after class, and without saying a word, wrote one sentence on the board; a quote from Thomas Macaulay: “The measure of one’s character is what they would do if they knew they would never be caught.” Weidman wrote, “I don’t know about the other boys, but this was the single most important lesson of my life.”
Three simple cases, but in each one they took Ezekiel seriously, “If you do not you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked, I will hold you responsible.” They took St. Paul’s seriously, “Love does no evil to the neighbor.” And, they took Jesus’ seriously, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”
Edmund Burke once wrote, “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good people to remain silent.” The people in these cases did not keep silent. They encouraged others to holiness and godliness; and they invite us to follow their example. We live in a time that profoundly calls us to not remain silent. In the midst of the strife, illness, division, and anxiety of our times, our world needs to hear voices of faith, or reason, of compassion, of love more than ever. Jesus calls us to do more than merely magnify the negativity around us; He wants us to cut through it with His words and His ways.
Let us remind the world of the truth of the Gospel; the only real cure to what ails our world. As racism and prejudice rear their ugly heads; as our concern for the stranger, the refugee, the immigrant, the marginalized, is strained; as violence and terror become part of our day-to-day; it is important to remember that these are all issues of faith. “Love does no evil to the neighbor,” and of course, everyone is our neighbor.
Make no mistake about the importance of being our brother’s and sister’s keeper. It is part of the fabric from which we were woven by God. God’s plan for you and me, and for everyone, includes being our brother’s and our sister’s keeper. So, the question is whether or not we actually keep our brother or sister, whether or not we look out for them, whether or not their welfare is our concern, whether or not we reach out and share faith and help meet the needs we see around us every day, whether or not we speak up with God’s words of love, forgiveness, and healing when evil is present in our midst.
Love’s voice must be louder than hate’s. Kindness must overwhelm prejudice. Concern for those being threatened must silence racism. Let us be the people who join the great chorus and speak God’s love into our world, the love that wipes out the darkness of evil and sin.
As St. Paul said, “Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
May the Lord give you peace.
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