Right and Wrong

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Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 131:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

Three brief scenarios...

1) Suppose a friend is developing a serious relationship
with a man she works with.
You know some of this guy’s history
and you know others who have dated him
and you know this is not a good situation for your friend to be in.
She can’t stop talking about how wonderful this guy is
and how happy she is to be seeing him.

What do you do?

2) Suppose you’re aware of the behavior of some young people
your kids know at school
– behavior you wouldn’t approve for your kids because it’s wrong.

Do you get in touch with the other kids’ parents and let them know?

3) Or suppose a colleague at work is cutting corners for his own benefit
and at the company’s expense.
The boss doesn’t know about it and probably won’t find out.
Your co-worker keeps bragging to you
about the scheme he’s worked out.

Do you confront him about his dishonesty?

Is it hard to speak to a friend whose lonely heart
is vulnerable to someone taking advantage of her?

Is it appropriate to get involved in how other parents raise their kids?

What does it take to confront a colleague’s dishonesty?

In our culture one of the greatest taboos is judging,
or even appearing to judge the behavior of others.
The conventional wisdom is to let everyone do
what he or she wants, needs, or decides to do
and, even if you disagree, keep your mouth shut
because it’s really none of your business,
you shouldn’t interfere
and you wouldn’t want to appear to be judging anyone.

Thank God we still have enough sense to intervene
when we see someone step off the curb
in the path of an oncoming vehicle –
we immediately move to pull that person out of harm’s way.
But that may be an exception to the rule
while our reluctance to speak in terms of right and wrong
and to warn each other of moral danger
may leave us powerless in the face of potential harm.
This kind of thinking colors the American conscience
such that serious moral questions and decisions
are deemed by many to be off-limits
- lest any feel judged on account of their actions.

Even when a professional group intervention
in someone’s crisis
seems warranted
or when we engage a facilitator to help us with conflict resolution,
even in those cases, value judgments are not allowed
- lest anyone come away feeling hurt.

The scriptures today bring us within striking distance
of looking at this cultural phenomenon from a different perspective.

Ezekiel presumes some things that our culture often denies:
he presumes that some things are just plain wrong;
and that people do wrong things.
He teaches that when we observe others doing wrong
we have an obligation to flag their errors
because wrong doing is never neutral –
it harms the wrong doer and it harms others.

St. Paul comes at this from a different angle.
He mentions some of the wrongs people do:
adultery, murder, theft, envy…
But he concludes much more positively
than Ezekiel did.
Paul writes:

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…
if you love one another you have fulfilled every law
because love does no harm to the neighbor…

That’s beautiful!

But there it is again, popping up in the middle of all the love talk:
doing wrong harms not only the self but the neighbor as well.

We may be quick to pull a stranger out of harm’s way at a cross walk,
but we can be slow to alert one another when more subtle danger
threatens us and our relationships with others – and with God.

In the gospel Jesus suggests a fairly detailed protocol
for facilitating crisis intervention.
The details of that protocol are less important
than the underlying truth it announces,
that we have a responsibility to call each other out:
one on one; in the faith community;
and politically in the broader community
when we see wrong being done.

To do less than this is to fail to love,
because love allows no harm to come to the neighbor.

The most un-loving thing of all
would be to pretend that everything is right
and nothing is wrong.

Failure to critique how we live exposes all of us
to unseen danger and unanticipated harm.

One of the responsibilities of adults
is to teach children right from wrong.

How will our children grow up,
what will become of our society

if we believe it’s wrong to say that some things are wrong?

Jesus was never reluctant to name wrong doing
when he encountered it.

And Jesus never named a sin or a sinner
without offering an ocean of mercy to the one who had failed.

Just so must be the way in which we name right and wrong
and love one another deeply enough
to keep each other out of harm’s way.

We are a church full of sinners, we have all done wrong,
and yet it is just such as us whom Jesus invites to his table
to be forgiven, to be reconciled, and to receive his love
in the mercy, in the meal of this altar.



  1. What about you, concordpastor? When you see things aren't just right, do you step in, or do you wait for the person to ask for help? Given your profession, you often must see when people need help but don't ask. Do you step in even when you are not only pulling a stranger out of harms way? I think not always. Because it's so much more difficult when we care and love people we know. So much easier to ignore, thinking they will be Ok.

    Some things we do are wrong. Sometimes we can't recognize them, unless someone we love brings it to our attention and not only brings it to our attention ... but offers to help with the problem.

  2. I believe, I hope I do my best.

    But be sure of this: the preacher often, even without intention or design, preaches what he himself needs to hear.

  3. It's difficult for...all of us... when egos are involved but maybe even more so for a priest who wants to reach out and confront someone who is going down the wrong path. Some people who may be in a state of confusion (such as an alcoholic) could resent this and see it as a "holier than thou" attitude. There are no easy answers for any of us and there are occasions when we don't even have time to pray for an answer. We either act on a situation trusting that God is with us (Where two or more are gathered...")or we don't and hope and pray for the best outcome. Hopefully the alcoholic doesn't crash the car and harm him/herself or the family members. In situations where we see a confrontation is needed, in a sense we are confronting ourselves as well.

  4. From experience, I would want to be told. If snyone had told me the truth about a certain situaiton long ago, my life would have been easier. However, not everyone shares my vie: not long ago I told a good freind something I thought she should know (child on drugs) and it ruined the relationship. You just don't know what to do sometimes!

  5. I agree with anonymous. There are people out there that may not even recognize that what they are doing is "wrong" or not good for them or others. They may be just waiting for, or needing another person to reach out to them ... to turn them the other way and support their decision to choose another path. So if you "see" someone in trouble, don't be afraid to reach out. What you see as "judging", just may save someones life.

  6. I really enjoyed this homily, but must tell you that a week prior, I heard one DO NOT JUDGE---My husband, being the quiet passive one liked the DO NOT JUDEGE one we heard while vacationing-----------Me--well you guessed it---loved the getting involved---and let the nieghbors know that I always wanted to be told if they saw anything going on with my children that they knew I would not approve of--great homily

  7. I'm usually the kind of person who doesn't need a whole bunch of help with things. Or at least that's how I see myself.

    I'm a self-starter and a self-motivator who can learn and do anything. Or so I like to think...

    The truth is that there are many times when I need help and because I'm the way I am I often don't know when, or how, to ask.

    I bet there are all kinds of people out there who feel the same way. We've all been in over our heads at one time or another and it's no big deal to call out for a little help now and again. In fact, by asking for help when it's needed, we can make our lives easier and help out those around us.

    One of the hardest parts is knowing when you need help. If you're like me you'll tend to think you can do it all. This often leads to frustration or worse.

    I don't know how many times I've broken something or pushed a situation beyond easy repair by trying to go it alone.

    When you start to get stuck, think about your problem and if you can use help-ask.

    Don't worry about being judged. It's pretty common to feel silly or embarrassed when you can't figure something out, just remember bad things do happen to good people and there are times when the smart thing to do is to get help.

    Don't wait until it's too late.

    Going to others for help is something we're supposed to learn early on. Maybe we do, but all to often as we get older and more self-reliant (which is obviously a good thing) we tend to forget that everyone could use a little help now and again.

    p.s. - I firmly believe you do your best! ROB

  8. Rob: great response! Thanks for taking the time to share these comments - I think they're points that just about every one of us can relate to.


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