Year A – 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Gentle Art of Correction

(Ezek.33:7-9; Rom.13:8-10; Mt.18:15-20)

Many years ago, a man named Frank took me under his wing. He was a tall Dutchman with a large belly and a heart to match.

It was early in my working life, and he kindly encouraged me and shared his wisdom with me. He also gave me guidance, and he challenged me by saying the things that I needed to hear.

Today, I remember Frank as my second father, but really, he was my mentor. What is a mentor? It’s an experienced person who gives guidance to a beginner. There have been many famous mentoring relationships in history – Sigmund Freud, for example, mentored Carl Jung, Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zuckerberg, and Pope St John Paul II mentored Pope Benedict XVI.

Asked about this, Pope Benedict XVI said that his pontificate was inspired by Pope John Paul II. ‘My memory of John Paul II is filled with gratitude,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t and shouldn’t try to imitate him, but I have tried to carry forward his legacy and his work the best that I could.’

The idea of mentoring oeiginally comes from the Bible. The Scriptures don’t actually use that word; however, they do record many mentoring relationships.

Moses mentored Joshua (Deut.34:9), Eli mentored Samuel (1Sam.3), Paul mentored Timothy (1 and 2 Timothy), and of course, Jesus mentored his disciples. He met with them, he shared meals with them, he gave them advice and he modelled the way.

And importantly, Jesus not only encouraged them, he also challenged them by saying the things that they needed to hear (Mt.16:23).

It’s because of this continuing chain of mentoring relationships that we have our Church today.

As Christians, we share this duty to guide others, especially when we see them doing the wrong thing. This is important, because none of us is perfect; we all need to learn. Unfortunately, however, many of us prefer to turn a blind eye; we try to avoid getting involved.

But remember that in Genesis, when God asks Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ Cain answers, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (Gen.4:9).

In his reply, God says, in effect, that yes, you are your brother’s keeper. In fact, you are all brothers and sisters and this means you are responsible for everything you do and say to each other. You are a family.’ [i]

Indeed, we are a family because by our baptism we all share the same heavenly Father, the same mother Mary and the same brother Jesus.

That’s why in today’s Gospel Jesus says, ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him.’ That’s also why in our first reading, God sends Ezekiel to watch over his people. His job is to protect them by speaking up if they do anything wrong or if they put themselves in danger.

We know this isn’t always easy to do. Fear and pride often stop us from giving or receiving advice. But that’s why St Paul in our second reading reminds us to always respect others, to always love our neighbours as ourselves, for we have a responsibility to them.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela talks about his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island. He tells how one day he was called to the main office. General Steyn was visiting and wanted to know if the prisoners had any complaints. The prisoners had chosen Mandela as their spokesman. Badenhorst, the prison commander, was also present. He was feared and hated by the prisoners.

In a calm but forceful and truthful manner, Mandela listed the prisoners’ complaints. But he did so without bitterness or recrimination. The general listened carefully. It really was a damning indictment of Badenhorst’s regime.

The next day, Badenhorst went to Mandela and said, ‘I’m leaving the island. I just want to wish you people good luck.’ That remark stunned Mandela. He thought about it for a long time afterwards. Badenhorst had been the cruellest of the prison commanders, but this incident showed that he had another side to his nature.

Mandela wrote: ‘It goes to show that even the most seemingly cold-blooded have a core of decency, and that if their hearts are touched, they are capable of changing.’ [ii]

The Scriptures often exhort us to look out for our wayward brothers and sisters (e.g., Jas.5:19; Gal.6:1; Col.3:16; Lev.19:17). This is a responsibility we all share because we want the best for them.

It takes courage, sensitivity and love to speak the truth to others.

If you find this hard to do, just ask Jesus for his help.

[i] Peter Kreeft, Food for the Soul, Year A. Word on Fire, Park Ridge, IL. 2022:653.

[ii] Flor McCarthy, New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, Year A. Dominican Publications, Dublin, 2019:304-305.