Matthew 18:15-20 - If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.
Was Jesus saying this to His disciples and followers, or was He/is He saying it to us as well?
We should lead our lives by example so that others may copy us and emulate our ways. But are we also responsible, to some extent, for the behaviour of others? If I approached someone in my church and told him it is not a good idea that he is cheating on his wife, the chances are I'll get a bloody nose for my troubles. John the Baptist tried just that, and see what happened to him?
Let's be serious for a moment.
We all know someone, perhaps a person we love dearly, who is on a path to eternal damnation. Maybe that person has turned his back on God. No longer believes. Or maybe that person's lifestyle is somewhat ... not what we would wish or expect. Cheating on one's partner, or selfish to the extreme, not as honest in financial dealings as they should be ... and so on.
Is it our responsibility to approach that person, as carefully as possible, perhaps wearing a protective helmet and clothing, and tell them they are wrong?
I guess it depends very much on who that person is. If it's someone really close to us, a spouse, a sibling, or an offspring, we can perhaps approach them with love. Indeed, it is our duty to do so.
But what if they don't listen? What then? Do we do it again ... and again ... to the point of alienating them and building a rift between us? Hardly clever, is it?
Or do we let drop the subject and pray to God that He may perhaps touch their hearts, in His time, in His way.
Look at the life of Saint Augustine, for instance. In spite of the good warnings of his mother, as a youth Augustine lived a hedonistic lifestyle associating with young men who boasted of their sexual exploits. His very nature, he says, was flawed. 'It was foul, and I loved it. I loved my own error—not that for which I erred, but the error itself.' Note also his famously insincere prayer, "Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet."
However, it is said that his mother prayed all her life for God to help him and eventually Augustine turned to God and became a leading figure in the Church.
But let's get closer to home. What do we do these days if we know someone is behaving badly? It is not always practical to approach them, even as kindly and loving as we might be, and tell them to mend their ways. It is, of course, downright impossible to take someone else with us as Jesus suggests in today's Bible reading. That would be interfering to the extreme, and if someone did it to me they would soon be acquainted with a facet of my character they never knew existed. But I know it won't happen anyway ... because I am beyond reproach. So much so that I find it hard to be humble when I am perfect in every way.
But what about the others? How do we deal with a loved one who is a lost sheep?
Remember, times have changed since Christ walked this earth. In those days communities were much closer to each other. People lived in villages and knew each other and knew each others business and behaviours. It was perhaps easier then to approach someone, maybe taking the local synagogue leader with us, or another friend, and talk to an erring sinner.
But now we do things differently. Everyone to himself and no one is responsible for anything; least of all our own actions. We cannot differentiate right from wrong. We live for today and enjoy ourselves as best we can for tomorrow may never come. Today, not only have we lost our moral compass, but we don't even know where to look for it.
So there is a danger that Christ's words above will remain just words in the pages of the Bible. Something to be read, thought about for a split second, if at all, and then soon forgotten.
On a practical level, I suggest that, depending on the individual concerned, and our closeness to him, we should attempt if we can to approach them with a kind and loving word or two.
Failing that, let us follow the example of Saint Monica, Augustine's mother, and pray, pray and pray some more.