Binding and loosing
Today's Mass readings:
Ezekiel 33:7-9, in which the prophet is told that he has the obligation to call out evil -- that if he sees someone doing wrong, and fails to call them on it, then they will be punished for their sin and he, too, will be held responsible for their guilt. If, on the other hand, he calls them out and they ignore his warning and continue in their sins, then they will be punished but he will be held guiltless.
Romans 13:8-10, in which Paul says that everything in the Law -- thou shalt not lie or steal or kill or covet -- is rolled up in the one commandment: "love your neighbor as yourself." Don't get hung up on details, just love.
Matthew 18:15-20, in which Jesus tells his disciples: if someone wrongs you, confront him (or her, etc.) privately. Maybe he'll hear you and apologize and change his ways, and you will have done him good as well as yourself. If they don't listen, then talk it over with some friends, and if they agree that this person is in the wrong, then bring them along and confront him together. If he still won't admit his fault, then make it public, and let the entire assembly judge. Then if the person still persists, you give up, let the relationship go.
So, I have a few thoughts about this. First of all, let me just point out that in biblical times, especially in Ezekiel's day but on up through Jesus and Paul as well, the word "sin" did not automatically make you think of SEX. There were sexual sins that were condemned, but other than adultery, which most of us still consider cheating and lying and bad, they just weren't what the prophets were paying attention to. Sin meant oppressing the poor, enriching yourself at someone else's expense, lying, cheating, stealing. And idolatry, especially in Ezekiel's time, but I'm not going to try to get into that today.
Second, we have an obligation to confront sin. That may mean better communication with your partner, not expecting them to read your mind when something upsets you, allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to say "when you do that, I feel as if you don't care, and my feelings are hurt." Or it may mean speaking truth to power, signing petitions for change, using our voice at the ballot box or as a shareholder or as a consumer, to advocate for justice and right.
Third, we have to give the other person a chance to respond. This means, one, giving people the benefit of the doubt as far as motives go. Like Paul says, all the Law is really about LOVE. Two, speaking to them in a way that gives them room to admit the wrong, not boxing them into a corner or making them defensive, not demonizing them, allowing them room to save face while still making the change you're asking for. Similarly, in public discourse, we should keep an eye on our own motivations -- it's really easy to confuse showing off how enlightened and virtuous I am with making a public statement of conscience in order to raise the public consciousness about an issue. It might end in the same action, but one is vanity and feeds divisiveness, the other is integrity and inspires emulation.
Fourth, we have to be willing to let go. We cannot control our neighbor or force them to do good. We must have the courage of our convictions, but we also have to recognize our limits. Again, this looks different at different levels ... one on one, it might mean letting a relationship end. On a larger level, it might mean taking the time and effort to research the corporate practices of the companies we buy things from, in order to really turn our backs on ones that really don't care about anything but enriching themselves.
In politics -- Ezekiel wasn't going to give up his citizenship if corruption and oppression didn't end, he wasn't going to shake Judah's dust off his feet and go petition for asylum in Moab or Edom. But, well, I'm thinking of a relative of mine who has, in recent years, gotten so demoralized about the state of American politics that I really worry about him becoming depressed. He works and works for truth and goodness and right, and then things go wrong in an election and he seems to feel as though he, personally, has failed. It's a burden of guilt that is totally understandable, but definitely inappropriate. We cannot solve all the world's problems single-handedly, we just can't. It's like St. Augustine said: "Pray as if everything depended on God. Work as if everything depended on you." Both/and.
The point is, we have a responsibility to try, to reach out. We do not have a responsibility, or even a right, over the other person's response. We have to try, but we also have to be prepared to let go.
Anyone want to contribute any other thoughts to this topic? Feel free to comment.