23rd Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 33:7–9; Romans 13:8–10; Matthew 18:15–203
Mrs. O’Neill’s test Christians have a responsibility to help brothers and sisters do what is right.
Asuccessful restaurant woman, who professed no religious affiliation at all, said to a priest, I don’t want to disillusion you, Father, but some of the most unethical people I meet in my profession are churchgoing Christians.
The priest replied, Well, unfortunately, there are bad Christians, just as there are bad non-Christians. The woman responded, But, Father, aren’t Christians supposed to be special? The priest looked at her sadly and said, Yes, they are. Yes, they are.
That conversation makes you wonder. How is the ethic of churchgoing Christians different from that of nonchurchgoers? Consider these three cases.
A ticket seller for an airport limousine service said to a father, Sir, your son looks young for his age. Take a half-fare ticket. If the limousine driver questions you, just say the boy’s under twelve. Save yourself a few bucks! If you had been that father, what would you have said to the ticket seller?
Take another case. A mother caught her five-year-old daughter with a stolen candy bar just after they returned from the supermarket. If you were that mother, what would you do?
Take a final case. Suppose you heard your son’s best friend say to your son, If you need any answer in the math test, just give me a signal.
If that had been your son, would you keep on reading your newspaper, or would you put it down and have a heart-to-heart talk with the boys?
Ihave no way of knowing what you would do in those cases, but I do know what Jesus would do.
The answer is found in today’s readings. All three focus on the mutual obligation that Christians have toward one another. Christians have an obligation not only to do what is right but also to help others do what is right. Jesus told his followers:
You are like salt for all mankind. . . . You are like light for the whole world. . . . Your light must shine before people. Matthew 5:13–16
Let’s return to the three cases. What would be a Christian response to each one of those cases? What should a follower of Jesus say to the limousine ticket seller who said to the father, Just tell the limousine driver that your son is under twelve.
This case really happened in Chicago. What did the father say? He told the ticket seller, I appreciate where you’re coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even when it works to his disadvantage.
And what about the mother who caught her five-year-old with a stolen candy bar? This, too, actually happened. The Dallas Morning News columnist who reported the story said the mother had the child return the candy to the supermarket manager and apologize. To the mother’s dismay, the manager said, Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s such a small item. My employees steal much more than that from me every day.
As the newspaper columnist pointed out, that’s an incredible reply.
The manager gave the child the impression that stealing is no big deal if only a small item is taken. Stealing is always wrong, no matter how big or how little the item is.
And, finally, what about your son’s buddy who agreed to cheat in his favor during a math test?
Jerome Weidman, author of the book Hand of the Hunter, was involved in such a situation as a boy.
He said that about 30 years ago he was attending a public school on New York’s lower East Side. He had a third-grade arithmetic teacher named Mrs. O’Neill. One day she gave her class a test. When she was grading the papers, she noticed that 12 boys had given the same unusual wrong answer to the same question.
The next day she asked the 12 boys to remain after the dismissal bell. Then, without accusing any of them, she wrote 21 words on the board. They read:
The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.
Then she wrote the name of the man who said them: Thomas Babingron Macaulay.
Weidman wrote: I don’t know about the other 11 boys. Speaking for the only one of the dozen with whom I am on intimate terms, I can say this: it was the most important single lesson of my life.
And so we have three different cases where three different Christians spoke up. Three Christians heeded Jesus’ instruction to help their brothers and sisters live the Christian life.
Three Christians took seriously God’s word to Ezekiel in today’s first reading: If. . . you do not warn [the evil man] to change his ways . . . I will hold you responsible.
Three Christians took seriously Paul’s words to the Romans in today’s second reading: If you love someone, you will never do him wrong.
And, finally, three Christians took seriously Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves.
And what impact did the three Christians have on the people involved? Allow me to repeat what Jerome Weidman wrote:
I don’t know about the other 11 boys. Speaking for the only one of the dozen with whom I am on intimate terms, I can say this: it was the most important single lesson of my life.
All that is needed for evil to prosper, said Edmund Burke, is for good people to remain silent.
The three Christians in these cases did not keep silent. They invite us to follow their example.
Let’s close with a prayer:
Lord Jesus, help us take to heart your words to your followers when you said:
“You are like salt for all mankind. But if salt loses its saltiness, there’s no way to make it salty again. It has become worthless, so it is thrown out and people trample on it.
“You are like light for the whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bowl; instead he puts it on the lampstand, where it gives light for everyone in the house.
“In the same way your light must shine before people, so that they will see the good things you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:13–16
Series II 23rd Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 33:7–9; Romans 13:8–10; Matthew 18:15–20
Speaking out There are times in our lives when we must speak out against evil, no matter the personal cost to us.
Dr. Karl Menninger was one of the greatest psychiatrists that America has ever produced. In fact, he was called the dean of American psychiatry.
Some years ago Dr.Menninger surprised his colleagues by authoring a book called Whatever Became of Sin? Psychiatrists aren’t supposed to write books about sin. But Dr.Menninger wasn’t your average psychiatrist.
In his book he recalled a memorable Friday afternoon in May 1915. He was a medical student at the University of Wisconsin when news arrived that the Germans had torpedoed the Lusitania, which was supposed to be a U.S. passenger ship.
Menninger goes on to say that the torpedoing of that ship played an important role in getting America to enter World War I.
Thirty years later the truth came out. The Lusitania was carrying munitions, and U.S. officials knew it. But they deliberately concealed the fact to mobilize public opinion against Germany to get the United States into the war.
One hero stood out in that shameful affair. That was Senator La Follette of Wisconsin. He stated in a public speech that the Lusitania was carrying munitions, and that the president knew it.
The Senate threatened to expel La Follette for making that statement.
In his defense, La Follette asked that the cargo of the Lusitania be made public. But his request was denied.
Dudley Field Malone of the New York Customs quietly offered to testify in La Follette’s behalf and reveal the cargo of the Lusitania. When the Senate heard this, they dropped all charges against La Follette.
Senator La Follette was one of the few public officials who refused to go along with the great lie that led to the killing and maiming of millions of Americans in World War I.
That story illustrates a point that all three of today’s readings touch on. It is this:
There comes a time when we must speak out against evil with all the force at our command. There comes a time when we must confront those who are involved in wrongdoing. There comes a time when we cannot remain silent in the face of evil.
Moreover, we must do this even at the risk of personal rejection. That’s part of the price of being a follower of Jesus.
The great British statesman Edmund Burke once said, “All that is needed for evil to prosper is for good men to remain silent.” This is also Jesus’ point in today’s gospel.
The story of Dr.Menninger shows three people speaking out and not remaining silent in the face of evil. Dr.Menninger spoke out about sin something his colleagues disagreed with him on. Senator La Follette spoke out against a lie something that almost cost him his Senate seat. Dudley Field Malone spoke out in defense of La Follette when the senator practically stood alone.
There are three things to keep in mind when it comes to speaking out against evil, whether it be in public or in private.
First, speaking out needs to be handled tactfully and delicately. In other words, we need to keep in mind the words of an old song that says, “It ain’t what you do. It’s the way you do it that gets the result.”
For example, there’s a mother who always holds her child’s hand or places her arm around her child when she corrects her.
There’s another mother who finds it hard to confront her teenage son on certain thorny issues. So she has devised the system of writing him a letter when one of these thorny issues arises. It allows her to remain calm and to choose her words carefully and lovingly.
There’s also a father who takes his teenage children out to dinner when he has something serious to say to them.
And so the first point about speaking out is that we must do it tactfully and lovingly. As the old song says, “It ain’t what you do. It’s the way you do it that gets the result.”
The second point about speaking out is that the reward for speaking out often comes long after the confrontation. A story will illustrate.
Some time ago the Dallas Morning News carried a story about swimmer Jeff Kostoff, an Olympic hopeful.
Jeff ’s list of records and medals fills a page in Stanford’s swimming guide. But missing from the list is mention of the role that Jeff ’s best high school friend played in his swimming career. Jeff says of his friend:
He was a swimmer, too, but he wasn’t that talented. He realized the talent I had, and convinced me to stop screwing around and concentrate on swimming.
Only now can Jeff appreciate how his friend helped him by confronting him. And only now can Jeff ’s friend enjoy the reward of having confronted Jeff.
And so the second point about speaking out is that the reward for speaking out often comes long after the confrontation.
This brings us to the third and final point. It is this: If we speak out against evil now, Jesus will speak out in our defense later. Jesus says to his followers, “Those who declare publicly that they belong to me, I will do the same for them before my Father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32
In other words, when we speak out against evil, we acknowledge Jesus before others. We proclaim that we follow him.
Or to put it in another way, when we speak out against evil, we take a stand for Jesus in this life and win from him the promise that he will take a stand for us in the next life.
Let’s close with a prayer that summarizes what we have been saying:
Lord, help us speak out against evil. Give us the wisdom to say what is right and to say it in the right way.
Give us the courage to realize that what we say may not bear fruit until years after we say it.
Finally, Lord, when we are tempted to remain silent and not speak out against evil, remind us of your promise that whoever acknowledges you before others you will acknowledge before your Father in heaven. M.L.
Series III 23rd Sunday of the Year Ezekiel 33:7–9; Romans 13:8–10; Matthew 18:15–20
Protesting evil There comes a time when we must speak out.
I f your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. Matthew 18:15
Martin Niemoller was a German submarine commander in World War I. The German government awarded him the prestigious Iron Cross for his service.
After the war he studied theology and became a Lutheran pastor in a suburb outside Berlin. When the Nazis came to power, he became a party member.
But when he saw the evil direction the Nazis were beginning to take, he publicly opposed them and organized German church leaders to oppose them, also.
Some time ago, the United States Congressional Record carried a powerful quotation from him. It described the attitude of many Germans who, unlike himself, refused to speak out against the Nazis. It reads:
When Hitler attacked the Jews . . . I was not a Jew; therefore, I was not concerned.
And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic; therefore, I was not concerned.
When Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the union; therefore, I was not concerned.
Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church and there was nobody left to be concerned.
Predictably, Niemoller ended up in a Nazi concentration camp. There he survived eight years, until he was freed by Allied Forces in 1945.
Some time later, he gave a talk to 1,200 college students in Erlangen, Germany. During the talk he was heckled and jeered for saying to a Jew about the Holocaust:
I acknowledge my guilt and beg you to forgive me and my people for this sin.
He responded by saying he could appreciate how the students felt, because he himself had once walked out on an unwelcome sermon in his youth.
And this brings us to today’s readings. There we find Jesus speaking out speaking out against evil and instructing us to do the same.
So let us look briefly at two ways we can carry out this instruction of Jesus.
First, at a private level. A ticket seller for an airport service asked a father: “What will it be? One adult and one child?” The father replied, “Two adults.My son just turned 12.” The ticket seller said, “Oh, he can still get by on a child’s ticket.”
The father replied, “I understand where you are coming from, but I want my son to be truthful, even when it is not to his advantage. Please! Give us two adult tickets.”
That response illustrates something else that we need to keep in mind in speaking out against evil on a personal level. We need to do so tactfully and with human understanding and compassion. As the old song goes, “It ain’t what you do, but it’s the way that you do it that gets the results.”
Consider such an example that got results.
There’s a mother who found it hard to confront her teenage son on certain issues. It always ended up in a shouting match.
So she devised the system of writing him a letter when one of these issues arose. It allowed her to choose her words carefully and lovingly.
That simple procedure not only helped to deal with the issues, but also deepened their relationship tremendously.
The second way we carry out Jesus’ instructions is through our response to evil at a public level.
Some time ago, minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas Senate with prayer. Here is a portion of it:
Heavenly Father . . . we know that your word says “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that is exactly what we have done.
We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism. . . . We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternate lifestyle.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. . . . We have killed unborn children and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justified. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. . . .
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. Retold by Carl Thellin in “Serra Mensajero”
A number of the senators responded to his prayer by walking out in protest. In the weeks ahead, however, Joe’s church logged in over 5,000 calls. Only 47 calls were negative.
When Paul Harvey read Joe’s prayer on his radio show, “The Rest of the Story,” the listener response set a record for call-ins. Speaking out against evil whether in private or in public— is not easy; it’s downright hard. It takes wisdom; it takes courage; it takes honesty, and it takes tact.
When we are tempted, therefore, to remain silent, let us recall what Niemoller said about remaining silent when the Nazis were taking over Germany.
More importantly, let us recall the words of today’s readings.
Finally, let us not forget what Jesus said to his disciples about standing up and being counted when it comes to evil. He said:
Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. Matthew 10:23
I don’t know about you, but that’s one promise that I pray I will be worthy of. I know it won’t be easy,
but with God’s grace, it is possible. And that’s the one thing we should never lose sight of: with God’s grace everything is possible; nothing is impossible.