Knowing the Song

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September 10, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

September 10, 2017
Matthew 18:15-20
Fr. George Smiga

Both today’s first reading from Ezekiel and the gospel remind us that we have an obligation to confront those who are doing wrong. Jesus tells us that if a brother or sister sins against us we are first to go to that person alone and resolve the matter. That is easy to say, but difficult to accomplish. How often have we tried to point out to someone we love that they are making a mistake or doing something that could hurt someone else only to find that they blow us off. They will not listen. So if we have an obligation to confront a wrongdoer, how can we do this in a way that is successful?

We could learn from a tradition common among some African tribes. When a young woman of those tribes discovers that she is pregnant, she goes out into the wilderness with some friends to pray and listen. They listen to hear the song of the child who is about to be born. These tribes believe that every person has a song that captures his or her unique beauty and worth. Once the women hear the song, they start to sing it aloud. Then they return to the village and teach it to everyone else. At the birth of the child they sing the song. When the child becomes an adult, the song is sung again. It is also sung at marriage and at death. But there is one other time when the song is sung. When a member of the community falls, commits a crime, or hurts someone in a deep way, then the village gathers around that person and again sings his or her song. This is done because the tribe believes that antisocial behavior is not corrected through punishment, but when people again claim their own true self and dignity. They are convinced that if a person can hear his or her own song and its goodness, there will no longer be the need or desire to hurt anyone else.

Here is what we might learn from this African tradition. If we see someone who is doing wrong, someone who needs correction, we might not be the person to turn that person around. But we could ask, who is?  Who is the person who knows that persons heart, and could speak to that person’s true self? We all respond to correction better if it comes from someone who knows us: someone who can reflect our beauty when we feel ugly, someone who can reflect our innocence when we feel guilty, someone who can remind us of our wholeness when we feel broken or of our purpose when we are confused. When we see someone who needs to be corrected, we should ask, “Who has the authority to speak? It might be a grandfather, a favorite aunt, or a childhood friend. We might go to that person and say, “You really need to talk to Charlie. You know his heart, and he needs to find it again.”

Jesus calls us to correct those who do wrong. But correction is not laying down the law. It is surrounding a person with love. Therefore, sometimes the best way to follow Jesus’ command is to find the person who knows another person’s heart, who knows the person’s song and can sing it. Then it may become possible for the wrongdoer to reclaim his or her true self and choose life again.

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