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Ezekiel 33 and Fraternal Correction

by Brant Pitre June 26, 2020 0 Comments



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Transcript:

You can see that this context explains the selection of the Old Testament readings as well.  So if you go back to the first reading, it's from the book of Ezekiel 33:7-9.  This is one of the scariest verses in the Bible — in my humble opinion — because it's about the grave obligation to engage in fraternal correction, which I think at least for me personally, and I think for a lot of people these days, can be really difficult in a climate of relativism, where people say “well that's your truth and I have my truth,” and where any attempt to correct somebody — especially in matters of religious faith or practice — can be seen as judgmental or as condemnatory.  The very idea of fraternal correction in religious matters is almost completely taboo.  Well not for the Bible.  If you look at the prophet Ezekiel, he's very serious about our obligation to correct one another when it comes to matters of sin, but also matters of truth and justice.  So this is what he says in Ezekiel 33:7-9:

So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.  If I say to the wicked, O wicked man, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way; he shall die in his iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

So what's that talking about?  Well again, one of the reasons people find this so scary  is because they think “oh my, I can think of lots of times where I've known someone was doing something wrong and I didn't say anything about it because I was afraid or I didn't want to hurt their feelings or I didn’t want them to judge me.”  And that's an application, but the first point I want to stress is that in context, who is this written to? Well it was written to Ezekiel and Ezekiel was a prophet.  He was a priest as well.  He was called by God to proclaim a message of conversion from sin and also of judgment to the people of Israel in the sixth century B.C., when there was lots of sin within Jerusalem and Jerusalem was going to be destroyed by the Babylonians.  Ezekiel is basically calling the people of Jerusalem, calling the Israelites, to repent, otherwise the city will be destroyed and the people will die.  And in that context, what God is first and foremost — and he is speaking to Ezekiel — saying is “son of man” — that's a standard way that God has of addressing Ezekiel as a prophet — “I've made you a watchmen for the house of Israel.”  So in other words, you are a prophet to the people of Israel and, therefore, you have the obligation to go and speak to those of them who are wicked and to call them out of their sin.  If you're afraid to do so, they're still going to die, but you're going to be responsible for this.  However, if you call them out of their sin, you call them to conversion, and they refuse to repent and they die, then you will have saved your life.

So first and foremost, this is a message to Ezekiel.  As a prophet, he has a special vocation to preach the word of God in season and out of season.  But at the same time, I still think that you see there is a principal for the obligation of fraternal correction that applies to the Church as well, and Jesus will utilize that in the New Testament.  That is also the background to his statement to the apostles in Matthew 18, “if you see a brother who sins against you, you need to go and tell him and call him to conversion, call him to repentance.”  And notice in context, that's particularly a grave obligation for who?  For prophets in the Old Testament and for the apostles and their successors in the New Testament as well.  So that call to conversion would be particularly grave for the successors of the apostles, who would be the bishops, the Pope, as well as to priests, who have that role of leadership within the community.  And you have always seen the Church exercise that in this way.  Although it does also lay, at the same time, a principal for all Christians as well.  We have an obligation to engage in fraternal correction done in love to those of our brothers and sisters, especially within our families for example, or amongst our friends, who can often be the most difficult, but at the same time who, in charity, we have to recognize that if someone sinned against you, that there needs to be a process of reconciliation that begins with one on one, and then may involve others as well, all with the interest of truth and charity in mind.



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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