23 Sunday OT – 7 September 2014 – Who is Watching Out for Us?
I met a Muslim woman not long ago whose name was Fatimah. This is the same name of Muhammed’s favorite daughter who is held in high esteem in the Muslim world because of her purity and courage. She is considered the counterpart to Mary the Mother of God who is one of the four women named in the Koran. Fatimah and I got into a conversation about the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (or Syria). I asked her how could some Muslims so misinterpret the commandments in the Koran? Fatimah’s answer was one word. “Arrogance.” She said that the Sunni extremists are arrogant when it comes to abiding by the teachings of Mohammed.
The United States and nine allies are now strategizing on how to counter ISIS, to prevent it from spreading its brutal assassination of religious liberty, homeland security and human dignity. Our Christian posture however is that violence does not resolve conflicts. We right here and now just heard readings that challenge us to be pro-active sentinels of peace and justice in our own communities.
In the first reading Ezekiel names the responsibilities of the prophet in helping Israelites protect their new found freedom after the exile. He suggests that the prophet is accountable for not warning evil doers of the consequences of their actions. However, if the wicked persons do not heed the exhortation the prophet is off the hook, not liable. 
What does this mean for you and me? The gospel suggests that we all are responsible for the welfare of others near and far. This responsibility is linked to the presence of a holy spirit in our lives. We share in those gifts and acknowledge them in others. They include respect for all peoples, reaching out in a spirit of unbridled, boundary-less hospitality.
This is why the situations in Ferguson, Missouri, in Ukraine and Russia, and in the Middle East have our attention. We read and hear about these events. We watch them on the internet and television. We shake our heads in utter disbelief at police brutality and racial profiling. We are disgusted at the thought of, the sight of, the beheading of innocent Americans or the bombing of schools of Palestinian children. 
What can we do about it is always a conundrum for us. The gospel calls us to correct one another. When someone offends us we are to tell them to stop. If that does not work then we ask others to assist us. Then the gospel says if that does not work we are to go to the whole church for help. Can you imagine a middle school or high school student saying to a bully, “Stop hurting me or I will go to the authorities” without worrying that friends will call him or her a “snitch?” Can you imagine a fraternity brother saying to the fraternity, “Let’s stop our hazing tradition because it might cause harm or even death?” Can you and I imagine speaking up at work when we see something happening that is wrong?
We might wonder why the author of this gospel used the word church as if Jesus said it. Jesus did not start a church. He came to expand the meanings of Judaism in his time. Writing many years after Jesus the author had the small communities of Christians in mind. They not only watched out for one another they shared their goods with less fortunate persons.
Today is the feast of Blessed Frédéric Ozanam. He was a 19th century activist in the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Paris. Ozanam understood that charity must lead to efforts to remedy injustice. Charity and justice go together. We who are called by our faith to make a difference in the world cannot sit back and do nothing while others suffer. We are encouraged to watch out for one another in a variety of ways. As many of us do, we can write to our elected officials, join protests and, on a local level, support our food pantry.
In the second reading attributed to Paul we heard the well known aphorism “love your neighbor as yourselves.” This is really the only commandment that seems to cover every situation. But, this message has failed to reach the hearts and minds of arrogant evil doers who thrive on hatred and greed and fill innocent people with fear. The psalmist reminds us, if today we hear God’s voice asking us to do something, let us not harden our hearts.
1 Fuller R and Westberg D. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2006 Third Edition) 176-178
2 See David Brooks “The Body and Spirit” for a thoughtful column on the ISIS problem in The New York Times 9/4/14 – A27.