Witnessing for the Lord
In the First Reading, God appoints Ezekiel as a watchman for his people, and he adds a threat. If Ezekiel does not warn sinners to mend their ways, God will hold Ezekiel responsible for their fate.
Does God say this to Ezekiel only? Or does he say it also to all of us? Many of the great people in the Christian tradition—Augustine, Aquinas, Francis of Assisi, to name just a few—thought that God’s command to Ezekiel is meant to apply to every one of the faithful now too. It is a duty for every Christian to watch out for each one of God’s people in the way God spelled out to Ezekiel.
But this can look like a dreadful idea. Could it really be the case that a Christian is supposed to be a kind of busybody, continually nagging other people about their sins?
And what about the Gospel instruction (cf. Matthew 7:5) to pay more attention to the beam in your own eye than to the speck of dust in somebody else’s?
Here we need to remember that there is more than one way to communicate with others. If you are concentrated in love and service to the Lord, your life will tell a story to everyone who crosses your path. When Francis of Assisi was asked about this very passage in the First Reading, he said,
If that passage is supposed to be understood in a universal sense, then I understand it to mean that a servant of God should be burning with life and holiness so brightly that by the light of his example and the tongue of his conduct, he will rebuke all the wicked.*
Your life can bear witness to the goodness of the Lord and the holiness of his commandments. You don’t have to use words to do so.
So a Christian can and should concentrate on the beam in his own eye, just as the Gospel injunction says. But if he really does so, then the duty to witness to others, God’s command to Ezekiel, will be beautifully fulfilled.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University