Recall in the Book of Genesis, the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother, Abel?” And Cain’s response has forged itself into even our modern-day psyche, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” We hear it today in the sense that we are not to be concerned with bad behaviour of others because they are free to do as they wish. They have free will and so long as they feel ok with what they are doing, all will be OK (the curse of “relativism” which Pope Benedict 16th fought so hard against). So just like Cain, I’m not expected to be my friend’s keeper.
But the answer is, in a real theological sense, a resounding “OH, YES YOU ARE!!” It is affirmed today in our first reading from Ezekiel where that same Lord warns Ezekiel, (which is a warning that flows also to us as baptised disciples of Jesus) that if we do not speak the truth against sin, especially sins against the Christian community, then we will be held morally responsible for the spiritual fate of sinners. Sinners will still be held accountable for their sin, but we will be held accountable for their fate if we do nothing to warn them. That is a call to stiffen our resolve to speak God’s truth at all times, even when to do so threatens our relationships with family and friends.
As mentioned earlier, in today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus affirms our obligation to speak the truth and not to take “No” for an answer. He even goes to the trouble of outlining a process for handling any such matter before them. Jesus teaches us to establish the facts of the matter; discuss it personally with them; and then if that fails, to bring the sinner before the leaders of the community; and if that fails to treat the sinner like a gentile or an outcast. He then establishes the indisputable authority of our Church leaders to hold that certain actions are grievously sinful. He also gives them the authority to absolve sin through what we now know as the Sacrament of Reconciliation. It is based on love, willing good for the other as other, not righteous indignation, or a desire to expel/punish them. It is all about caring for their spiritual good but respecting their free will. Jesus is with the Church and us as members of the Church when we gather in His name (which emphasises the reality that we are a people of God, not just a gaggle of like-minded individuals). If sinners choose not to heed the warnings then they may put themselves in danger of being at least spiritually exiled from the Sacraments of the Church. So there is an obligation on us to listen to Jesus with a soft heart and to respect the Christ-given authority of the Church.
So, yes, we are our brother’s/sister’s keeper. No getting around it! We are called to be the voice of contradiction in our secular world where morals and values flip depending on the whim of the day (take abortion on demand, voluntary assisted dying, extra-marital and same sex relationships, and so on). We are called to speak the God-given truth, not to judge (Jesus will do that) but to persuade no matter what the temporal consequences for us might be. And like in Jesus’ time, that’s risky and tough. But take heart and remember, Jesus is with us at all times, even to the end of the world.