Just as Ezekiel is chosen by God to watch over the house of Israel (God’s people) in our First Reading this Sunday, so too Jesus is appointing His watchmen over the New Israel in our Gospel.
These new leaders of the house of Israel are given the extra-ordinary powers of “binding and loosing,” which, in basic terms, means that they have the authority of God backing them up (see Matthew 16:18 for another example of this).
The important caveat here, though, is that they have this power only when they are in communion with Jesus, and thus the Father. Just as the Holy Spirit speaks only what Jesus tells Him (cf. John 16:13), and Jesus speaks only what the Father tells Him (cf. John 14:31), so too the Church only speaks with divine authority what She hears from the Holy Spirit. Ezekiel has this same experience with God in our First Reading. He is only to say what he hears from God’s mouth.
This, today, we know as the “Papal Magisterium”—the Pope and the Bishops in union with him. This unity is the very manifestation of what Jesus says in our Gospel:
I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.
Remember, of course, that in this passage, “you” means the Apostles whom Jesus is addressing.
There is, however, another element to our Readings. They also instruct the Church, and us by our participation in it, to rebuke sin! Sin is what cuts us off from Life Himself—God, our loving Father. Therefore, sin can never be tolerated. This is what is made clear to Ezekiel and what Jesus makes clear to His Apostles too. He says:
If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.
This is our duty. If we see sin among the brethren being committed it needs to be challenged. However—and this is a big “however”—it needs to be, as much as possible, done by the right person and in the right way. Be prudent in a fraternal correction. Do it in love with the best interest of the person in mind and heart. Do not do it to vent or express your anger, but do it to build up the person and the Kingdom of God. Perhaps it would be wise to consult a senior member of the community in private first.
St Augustine said of fraternal correction, “You do worse by keeping silent than he does by sinning!” This is definitely reflected in our First Reading this Sunday.
St Paul, in our Second Reading, alludes to this concept of fraternal correction saying that we owe it to our neighbour to correct him or her because of the love that we have for them. To really love another, we must be above all concerned with their salvation. Nothing else matters if they don’t have salvation. Therefore, if you see someone or something threatening the loss of that salvation, will you remain silent? Is it not the duty of one who loves to remove the threat or at least try?
If they will not listen, as Jesus says, “treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.” So, what does this mean? Cross them off your list and never associate with them again? Many take it to mean this and it’s not correct. Think deeper. How did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors? He ate with them and tried to bring the Gospel, the Good News, to them and when rebuked by the elders for doing so He said,
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12–13)
If we receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus at least on a Sunday-basis, we will augment our union with Him (cf. CCC 1391) and we will be separated more and more from sin (cf. CCC 1393).
Jesus continues to knock on the doors of our hearts to let Him in a little further. “O that today you would listen to His voice! Harden not your hearts.”