I remember a particular fellow in our seminary days.  He was a big guy with a huge problem – terrible, bad breath. He liked to talk to people close up, many actually vomited after conversing with him. We dreaded to be his seatmate in the chapel, because when he sang, the electric fan distributed the horrible scent to the people around.  No one wanted to talk to him about this because he might get hurt or angry. But we talked about him a lot.  He became the butt of jokes.  Until one day, I thought of a bright idea.  I bought a bottle of mouthwash.  At night, I placed the bottle in front of his door, knocked hard and ran as fast as I could to avoid detection.

If we cannot talk to our neighbor about bad breath, how can the gospel find its way into our lives as Christians?  The gospel calls us to face up to our brothers and sisters who live in ways contrary to the gospel. More serious than bad breath is knowing that our brother or sister persists in wrong behavior or sin. But we are immobilized; we cannot make a move. As Asians, we are not used to directly confronting people about their situation.  We avoid head-on collision.  We want to preserve smooth inter-personal relationships. We want to avoid trouble.

What do we do then?  Many people choose not to verbalize their feelings.  They are hurt by the wrongdoing of another person and yet they remain silent.  But they brood about the hurt, cry because of it and feel self-pity and guilt unceasingly.  It takes a toll on our emotional and psychological health. How many men or women prefer silent treatment or indifference as a response to their spouse’s weakness?  How many parents or children tacitly gloss over each other’s faults just so that there will be no argument in the home?  When this happens within families, there is untold suffering that lingers for a long time, even for generations.

Or we refuse to talk to the people concerned and yet we start talking to other people about them. Instead of discussing things with the persons concerned, we inform others about these people their activities and reveal hidden facts.  Together with others, we feast on people’s weaknesses and faults.  This is the breeding ground for gossip and malicious rumors.  This happens among friends, in school, at work, or in neighborhoods.  And this does not help to reform people but foments even more division and anger.

Against these tendencies to keep things to ourselves or to spread gossip, the Lord is challenging us to speak to one another.  This gospel passage has always been known as the teaching on fraternal correction.  If we are true followers of the Lord, we will be alarmed that our brother or sister is drifting away from the right path due to his or her action or decision.  Jesus encourages us to speak, to initiate dialogue, to contribute to the conversion of others.  As Christians, we must not live in indifference, but must truly be involved in the life of each other – of our families, friends and communities.

This is not easy to do. It demands sacrifice and strength.  As Filipinos, it is not in our genes to be frank, honest and genuinely concerned.  We need to really listen to the Lord and beg his help that he may inspire and strengthen us to become instruments of other people’s change of heart and return to God.