When doing good is not good enough
GOD'S WORD TODAY - Manuel V. Francisco, S.J. () - September 7, 2008 - 12:00am

Many of us Christians are content, on the one hand, leading decent lives—being faithful and devoted to our families, working hard and going to Mass every Sunday — and, on the other hand, avoiding serious sins —stealing, adultery, exploitation and killing. We thus take pride in leading upright lives by doing good and avoiding evil.

But in today’s readings, being morally upright involves not only doing good and refraining from doing evil. The challenge of God’s Word for us today is entails not simply avoiding wrongdoing, but also confronting evil.

1. Denouncing Evil. In our First Reading from Ezekiel, the Lord proclaims that He has assigned watchmen over Israel to confront evildoers: “you shall warn them for me.” Moreover, Yahweh declares that he will hold His watchmen responsible for evildoers who go unchallenged and are not dissuaded from their wrongdoing.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the Early Church, speaking from the authority of Jesus, commands members of the community to confront a fellow Christian who commits any form of wrongdoing. The sin of the wrongdoer can be interpreted as an offense against the person called to confront the wrongdoer, or as an offense against the entire community. Hence, in order to do good, the Christian is bound by Jesus to denounce evil and confront evildoers.

2. Confronting the Wrongdoer. In our Gospel today, Jesus offers a humane manner of confronting an offender. First, Jesus instructs us to speak to the person concerned in private. If he or she remains intransigent, Jesus advises us to bring in a couple of witnesses. If the person continues to refuse his or her offense, only then are we to bring the matter to the larger community.

How different from the Pinoy way of handling conflicts. We usually resort to a mediator to mend our relational conflicts. Or else, nagsusumbong tayo sa iba. Until everyone in the community knows of our ill-feelings toward another member of the community except the very person concerned. Hence, in order to do good, Jesus instructs us to confront those who have wronged us in a discreet and charitable manner.

3. Reconciling with and Forgiving the Offender. Matthew repeats in this chapter what he had written in Mt. 16: 19, that is, that Jesus has authorized Peter and the Church to bind and to loose, which means to expel unrepentant members of the community and to forgive and reinstate repentant members. 

While the official Church hardly excommunicates anyone for grievous moral sin or doctrinal error nowadays, many of us expel people from our hearts. Very often we cast away from our lives people who have hurt us. Very often we decide not to have anything to do with those who have wronged us. Sometimes, even after the person has apologized to us and begged for our forgiveness.

In our Gospel today, Matthew reminds us that to forgive is a mark of true discipleship. Whether or not our anger is justified, the more perfect thing to do is to reconcile with those who have wronged us, to forgive those who have offended us. Thus, doing good does not only entail avoiding evil, but going the extra mile — forgiving those who have hurt us most deeply.

During her formation years, a religious sister recovered painful memories that she had suppressed for more than a decade—that during her pre-pubescent years her father had repeatedly sexually molested her. Consequently, she fell into a deep depression and underwent therapy. Eventually she confided to her mother what her father had done to her. Her mother refused to believe her story, which intensified her agony. Later on her mother superior conveyed to her father the reason for her depression. The father offered to undergo a lie detector test in order to prove his innocence. The mother superior took his bluff and arranged for a lie detector test to be conducted in the convent. The father was not proven guilty of his alleged offense against his daughter, who, because of her father’s blatant lies, fell deeper into a depression.

Eventually the Junior Sister realized that as long as she had not forgiven her father, he continued to wield the power to make her life miserable. She also realized that if her peace of mind were contingent on his admission of his guilt, she may never be at peace, as her father may never admit his guilt. Two years after the retrieval of her painful memories she decided to forgive her father, who nevertheless did not admit to any wrongdoing. She found her peace and was finally able to move on with her life.

Till this day, this sister keeps a card within her pocket stating that if ever a heinous crime were committed against her, she does not wish her offender/s to be put to death. Though agonizingly difficult to do so, this religious sister witnessed to Christ not simply by doing good, but also by denouncing evil, confronting wrongdoers and forgiving her offender, her father.

May the Holy Spirit infuse us with courage to denounce evil in our communities, the Church and society; to confront wrongdoers in a humane manner, and, as we allow the love and mercy of God to fill us to the brim, to forgive those who have trespassed against us.

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For feedback on this column, e-mail tinigloyola@yahoo.com

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