7 Sep 2008
“‘You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel.’” (Ezek 33:7)
Fr. Randy Calvo
In the name …
The other night I was watching a movie on television. I think it was called Firewall and it starred Harrison Ford. He played a banker whose family was held hostage so that the bad guys would have leverage over him, so that they could force him to electronically transfer 10’s of millions of dollars to their accounts. In the movie the bad guys are obviously not too concerned about the welfare of their captives. At one point the daughter says to one of the gunmen, “Why do you hate us?” To which the bad guy replies, “I don’t hate you. I just don’t care about you.” I don’t know which is worse. When we have personal feelings of hatred, I think we can understand, not condone, but at least understand, the motivation of cruelty. When Harrison Ford, for example, kills the bad guys who have kidnapped and threatened his family, we can understand the hatred that motivates his violence. Again, not condone, but understand. But when somebody just doesn’t care about another person, any person, or all people for that matter, and treats them as expendable, trivial, insignificant, then that feeling is pathological. It is by definition not understandable to the healthy mind. It is so strange to us that it’s startling, and I think that’s why that one line in the entire movie stuck in my head.
We seem to have no problem recognizing that this is not the way we should act towards one another when it’s presented in the negative. We can readily hear the depravity of “I don’t hate you. I just don’t care about you.” But surprisingly, we are not as conditioned to recognize the candor and truthfulness of the lesson when it’s offered in the positive, when we hear it stated instead as: We must care about others. We put up roadblocks so that we won’t have to go too far down that path. It’s awkward sometimes to care about others because others may think of it as intrusive and meddlesome. To care about others may involve advice and correction and nobody likes the thought of getting into an argument. It’s as if we would like to create a no-man’s-land between the remoteness of not caring for other people and the burden of caring for other people, but it doesn’t exist.
I think it’s fair to say that it takes effort to be a caring person, not just in today’s world, but always. In Matthew’s Gospel from 2,000 years ago we can read of Jesus’ words: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (11:29-30) Luke chooses not to share that sentiment with his readers. Luke knows that being a Christian requires effort and initiative. It is not easy; the burden is not light. As a matter of fact, Luke breaks away from Matthew at exactly this point and offers instead the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) that we will read next Sunday on the Feast of Brotherly Love. He knows it’s not easy to follow Christ because Luke knows it’s hard to be like Jesus expects us to be. It’s hard to care for every other person, even the complete stranger, even a person completely different than us. But this is what we must do as people of faith; we must care about others.
Today’s Lesson is taken from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Ezekiel. He was a mystic who had grand and beautiful visions of heaven, but he was not allowed to stay there. He was a prophet sent by God to the defeated and exiled people of Israel. In other words, heaven could not be his until he dealt with Israel in their time of need. His salvation was tied-up with the needs of these people. He could not enjoy heaven himself until he helped them. Israel had lost everything. They were banished to a foreign land. All that they had relied upon to create order in their lives was gone. The king gone. The Temple gone. Their homes gone. Into the confusion of the Exile, God sends His prophet Ezekiel. When the dominant example all around Israel is of exploitation, the powerful subjugating the weak, when survival itself is a question mark, Ezekiel comes as the living lesson of God. He is appointed the “watchman of the house of Israel,” as we read in today’s Lesson. If a person does wrong, and Ezekiel says nothing, if he does not care, then that person will be judged for his sins, but Ezekiel will be held responsible too. If a person does wrong, and Ezekiel does say something, then the person will be judged for his sins, but Ezekiel will be free of guilt. I don’t know if we really want to hear and take in this message. It’s saying to us that we have to care about others, that our path to God sometimes means going back and getting the ones who have become lost.
When we jump 500 years forward to the time of Jesus, the same message is repeated. A couple of weeks ago we heard Jesus say to Peter: “‘Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” (Mt. 16:19) Today Jesus says the exact same words to the congregation of believers. The morality of the community is the responsibility of all the community: her leaders, as we mentioned two weeks ago, and her members, as we mention today. We must all care for one another. This is part of who we are as Christians, and it is mentioned twice for emphasis. It cannot be avoided. We are appointed watchmen for the house of the new Israel. The purpose of this calling is not to empower critics and detractors; there are enough of them in the world already. The purpose is to foster care for one another, to mutually help one another. It need not be pointing out faults and failures. Instead, it should be supporting one another. It should be the encouragement to do what is right and true, and offering a gentle nudge when someone wanders. This is what we are called to do as people of faith. May Jesus give us the wisdom, conviction and tact to be His watchmen in our world today with all the people we meet. For this we pray in His name. Amen.
In the name …