Correcting the Sinner
Last Sunday Bishop Patrick sent us a Pastoral Letter on Education, which meant I was unable to say a few words about last Sunday’s rather important Gospel (Matthew 18:15-20) so I’m going to do so now.
Our Lord reminded us of our obligation to correct the sinner as well as being open to correction ourselves. All of us need correction at times, and when it comes our way, we ought to receive it graciously, even if it might not always be right. Our Lord said that if your brother does something wrong you must go and tell him. If he listens to you, you have won him back, but if he refuses, go and get two or three people to join you, and if he won’t listen to them, go and tell the Church, and if he won’t listen even to the Church, let him be to you as a pagan or a tax collector. That’s another way of saying, “let him be excommunicated.” In the case of the Jews, that would have been from the synagogue. This would obviously be over a serious matter, because there is a greater obligation to correct someone in a serious matter than in a less serious one. But Our Lord is very clear: “If your brother does something wrong, go and tell him.” This would also extend to people speaking error. But too often today we think, “Oh I can’t say anything. It’s none of my business. I don’t want to offend them.” But correcting a sinner is a Biblical teaching and something we are required to do, especially in serious matters when it concerns our families and friends. Parents are certainly bound to correct their children.
Correcting someone can be a very hard thing to do because no one is perfect. So we should always go as a humble fellow sinner to talk to another sinner while at the same time being prudent and sensitive. Never act as if you are superior. Correcting someone is a loving thing to do, because by doing so, we are calling them back to the right path, so that ultimately something worse doesn’t befall them, particularly the loss of their soul. This was stated clearly in last weekend’s First Reading from the Prophet Ezekiel (33:7-9).
“When you hear a word from My mouth, warn them in My name. If I say to a wicked man: Wicked wretch, you are to die, and you do not speak to the wicked man to renounce his ways, then he shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death. If, however, you do warn a wicked man to renounce his ways and repent, and he does not repent, then he shall die for his sin, but you yourself will have saved your life.”
So it is a loving and merciful thing to correct someone who is sinning grievously. And it’s worth reminding ourselves that many of the sins that people make light of today, such as abortion, assisted suicide, fornication, homosexual acts, theft and drunkenness, St Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit called ‘deadly’. (1 Corinthians 6:9). So we are not merely representing our own opinions here, we are representing the truth and the teachings of God Himself contained in Sacred Scripture, and if one dies unrepentant of these sins, Heaven is not going to be your final destination.
St James writes in his Epistle, “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of his sins” (5:19). So if you bring someone in serious error back to the right path, and that could be moral or doctrinal error, you are saving him from eternal death which is a great victory! And this will cover a multitude of sins for the person in error, and perhaps also for the person who has brought him back to the truth. But either way the amount of sin is reduced, and if it’s a serious matter you have saved his soul, and probably your own too!
Fr Paul Gillham, IC