With the sin of our first parents, humanity lost the ability for perfection. As a consequence then, sin began to reign from generation to generation. People became enemies of themselves and competition became the order of the day. Cain killed his brother Abel, and boldly answered God when he inquired: “Am I my brother’s keeper”? (Gen 4:9). In today’s first reading God tells Ezekiel that he is appointed to watch over his sisters and brothers, to help protect the good in them. He further tells Ezekiel that if he does not speak out to dissuade a person doing wrong, then he too will be held responsible. With this we learn that it is not only a duty but a necessity to encourage the good in others. In other words, fraternal correction is what we owe to one another. In this way, fraternal correction of the lax brother becomes our business.
In today’s gospel, we are told not what to do but how to do it. Jesus tells his disciples that as God’s children, they are bound in love to seek the good of one another. “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. The motivation for this kind of Christian action is to “regain” our brother or sister, to restore the broken relationship, not primarily to denounce him or find out who is right or wrong. This calls for a personal and courteous manner of approach. It is for this purpose that we are God’s ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20) to reconcile the weak person to God.
For those who say: “it is not my business to correct my brother” or “It is not your business to correct me,” Ezekiel is telling us that it is not only our duty as prophetic people of God to correct our erring brothers and sisters but something we owe in charity to do. In today’s second reading, Paul tells us that it is a debt to fail to show this kind of love to our brothers and sisters. He commands us to “pay to all what is due them – taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe no one anything, except to love one another… (Romans 13:7-8). He is asking us to develop the moral sensitivity to see fraternal correction as our business.
One may wonder why we must go and bug the weak brother or sister when he or she does something wrong and knows it is wrong. We must not fail to know that evil, by its nature, blind folds its victims. The intervention of a corrector may wake up the sinner to consciousness. Consider, for instance, what happened to David when Nathan made his sin known to him (2 Sam 12:5), the picture changed and he repented.
As an exercise slated to restore the weak brother or sister to fellowship, fraternal correction demands us to recognize the offending brother or sister as one who is weak. He does not need to be subjected to judgment – scolding, rebuking or putting him down. He deserves to be forgiven of his or her offence without expecting an apology as some do. The intention of the Lord here is to seek the good of the weak brother or sister.
As Christians today, we suffer from a serious lack of awareness and sensitivity to our obligations to other people. When we hear that a country is devastated by drought and famine, do we owe them? When we hear that someone committed suicide or got drunk, do we owe them? The legally minded among us will say, "No, we don't." But Paul today wants us to develop the awareness and moral sensitivity to say, "Yes, we do." For us Christians, goodwill or kindness is not something we may choose to do or not do. It is a debt we owe to each and to all.