“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.”
This is Jesus’ advice, taken straight from this Sunday’s gospel reading (mt 18:15-20). It’s actually the first part of his advice for saving someone from themselves. If your brother doesn’t listen to you, Jesus reasons, take someone else to confront him with the facts. If that doesn’t work, get the church involved. Beyond that, good luck to him. At least you did your duty.
Would Jesus’ advice fly today? It implies a level of intimacy that’s rare in our web-enabled society. People in today’s neighborhoods tend to keep to themselves. Today the closest we get to the kind of intimacy Jesus recommends is via a laptop or desktop—while sitting alone in our room. Sure, we can connect via social media—Twitter and Facebook. But then we only get to know people the way they want us to know them—as demi-celebrities, judging them by a list of accomplishments designed to present them in the best light. This is phony intimacy that keeps people out of one’s life rather than bringing them in. Just as with Hollywood celebrities, this helps us close the doors of our mental closets to public scrutiny, filled as they are with a whole wardrobe of skeletons not meant for public viewing.
This is why we are shocked when we learn our neighbor committed suicide because he was depressed; or we can’t believe it when the teenage girl who lived down the street died from a heroin overdose; or when the quiet guy across the way–who always kept to himself–one day shoots the people at his job site because of some disagreement with his boss.
If only. Together, those are saddest words said after these kinds of things happen. If only I had seen the signs of his pain; of her dependence; of his rage. But those aren’t the kinds of feelings shared on a Facebook page. You can only enter a person’s skeleton closet through their eyes. In Sunday’s first reading (ez 33:7-9) we see an early herald of Jesus’ message:
“You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me. … if you warn the wicked, trying to turn him from his way, and he refuses to turn from his way, he shall die for his guilt, but you shall save yourself.”
That’s seems like a harsher version of what Paul tells the Romans in our second reading (rom 13:8-10): “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Love in this context means listen. Look. Pay attention. Turn off Facebook and open a face-to-face dialog with those around you. Then let the word of God guide you in whatever dialog that ensues. Start with those closest to you and work your way through whoever you meet along your journey to God’s Kingdom. With the Spirit’s help, you’ll be bringing a skeleton-free crowd of souls along with you.