23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 7, 2014 – Year A
Readings: Ez 33:7-9, Psalm 95, Rom 13:8-10, Mt 18:15-20
by Rev. Mr. Ray Roderique, Permanent Deacon
There comes a time when we must speak out.
If 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:
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.
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.