THE WATCHMAN’S DUTY (HOMILY FOR 23RD SUNDAY, YEAR A)

Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Scripture says in Genesis 1:31 that God saw everything he had created, and they were all very good. This means that while God created everything in a state of goodness, he did not make them to be perfect in the strict sense of the word, not even man. Perfection is thus, reserved for God alone; hence, no one is perfect, except God. It is thus, as a result of this imperfection that people sometimes make mistakes. However, some people sometimes do not even realize they have made a mistake. To their mind, they are doing well. This is what the Latin adage expresses which says Bonum currere, sed extra viam (A good race, but out of track).

In 1955, two psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham propounded a simple but very useful theory for self-awareness which they called the “JoHari Window” and which psychologists still use today. In brief, the JoHari Window simply says that there are four sides to every human being by which they can be understood, which they called windows. These windows are the Open (known to the individual and to others), Blind (known to others but unknown to the individual), Hidden (known to the individual but unknown to others) and Closed (unknown to the individual and to others).

From this analysis of the human person and from the reality of human experiences, it is clear that as a result of our blind windows, there are times when people may be on the path of error without even realizing it, but this error is open and known to others. At such times, when we are the ones who are seeing the faults of others, we are bound by the obligation of good conscience, to show them the error of their ways. This is where today’s readings come to play, and the summary of each reading leaves us with at least one lesson.

The first reading leaves us with the lesson that we are our brothers’ keepers and must help each other live rightly. This is the call God puts to us when he said to the prophet Ezekiel that he is making him a watchman for the house of Israel with the task of pointing out the error of a sinner to him or her. And by extension, this applies to us too. This does not mean that we should become fault-finders, but that when we notice a fault, we should do well to point it out with the intention of helping the erring brother or sister retrace his or her steps to the right path. It was Edmund Burke who said that “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good men to keep silent.” So, if you see someone doing wrong and you keep quiet about it, then you, by your silence, affirm and encourage that evil to go on. We can draw from the first reading too, the caution that God will judge us, not only for our own deeds and/or misdeeds, but also for that of others which we failed to correct, if they die in that error. We are therefore watchmen for each other and must strive to keep one another in check.

In the gospel reading, Jesus admonishes us to spare no effort in helping someone in error to return to the right path. This is why he says if you have a misunderstanding with someone, go alone to him or her first; if that does not work, take two or three people with you; if that too fails, report it to the church. The reason for this emphasis is because every soul is precious to God and all that can be done to save a soul from damnation must be done. And if all that does not work either, treat the person like a pagan or a taxman, meaning, love such a person all the more. Jesus himself gives us a clear example on how to treat someone like a pagan or a taxman from the way he treated them. The pagans and tax collectors were regarded as sinners by the Jews, and when these same Jews murmured about how Jesus was relating with the tax collectors, he told them he came not to call the righteous but to call sinners (Mat 9:9). However, if all our human effort fails, we must not forget to commend them to the grace and mercy of God.

Finally, Saint Paul tells us in the second reading that even while making the effort to win back a brother or sister to the right path, we must do it in love. Hence, when correcting someone in error or reconciling with an offender, do it in love. Christian charity will most likely win an errant brother or sister over while any other thing may be met with resistance. Therefore, in correcting someone, do it the way you will yourself want to be corrected.

As a last word, to do the watchman’s duty, we must ourselves do well to live above board. You will not have any moral voice to correct anyone when you yourself are living in error. A typical watchman’s duty post is either on a high tower, a high city wall or a raised platform. Watchmen never stay on the same ground level with the people they are watching out for. Thus, if we must watch out for our brothers and sisters, like the typical watchman, we must stay on the high tower, the high city wall or the raised platform of moral rectitude. Anything short of this is a calamity waiting to happen. This is why when Jesus said we are the light of the world, he likened us to a city set on a hill (Mat 5:14). Thus, let us individually make efforts to live good lives so that when God puts the burden of correcting a brother or sister in error and win him or her back to God on us, we will not be held back by the voice of a guilty conscience. Amen

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