This week let us anchor the whole reflection on words from

TODAY’S PSALM [95 or 94] which challenge us – ‘O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.”

Why is this suggested? Well, the

OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [EZEKIEL 33: 7 – 9] speaks to us of our Christian Witness in terms of the imperative. WE MUST BE WITNESSES. Hear the prophet as he warns: (if) you do not speak to warn … his blood I will require on your hand … but if you warn … you will have saved your life.”

But where do we find the source of, and motive for, witness – and what should the manner of our witness be?

To answer the question return to our anchor. There we will discover that if we are to be authentic witnesses as ourselves must listen to his voice” and harden not our hearts.” Perhaps you may recall what was suggested in the reflection for this year’s Second Lenten Sunday? …..

Love is even more basic than witness because witness flows out of love.

Life experience is meant to soften, not harden, us!

We must ensure that any outreach of witness or warning does not arise out of a self-righteous or judgmental attitude. It must come out of love ….. and this includes the essential element of being available and willing to assist ‘the other’ to stand straight again. We should also be aware that witness is always an assistance, a help, and sometimes we have to push ‘the wheelchair’ for some distance. An authentic ‘warning witness’ is seldom a sort of ‘lick and promise’. We must be there for the long haul.

Then, we must be sure that out witness arises out of the fact that we ourselves have listened to his voice, and are continuing to listen. We listen to his voice when we have, as our Psalm tells us, developed the habit of coming into his presence. This endeavour ensures that those who benefit from our witness see and hear it as the Lord’s work – not our own.

Witness should always be a dialogue not a diatribe

. Here it may well be worth noting that during his recent visit to Korea, Pope Francis said that “we cannot engage in real dialogue unless we are conscious of our own identity. Our own identity must be the point of departure.” We need to be convinced that our identity as Christian witnesses finds its foundation in the word of God. This is where we find our identity, here we nurture, grow and strengthen it.

I find it interesting that Saint Paul in

TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING [ROMANS 13: 8 – 10] proclaims that we should owe no one anything, except to love one another.” This is where our witness must start. Paul goes on to list some of the 10-Commandment5s but insists that love is the fulfilling of the law.” No place here for hard hearts. In order to witness in love (with open hearts) we need to ensure that we are not involved in any sort of competition. Witnesses are not combatants or contestants. WITNESSES ARE SERVANTS OF THE WORD.

It follows then that

TODAY’S GOSPEL [MATTHEW 18: 15 – 20] is of real importance. Genuine Christian witness is not always successful but this must not be interpreted as being futile or a waste of time. Finally, while there is a deep value in individual witness, the witness of community, family and Church are of inestimable importance. Take two others along with you ….. (because) if two of you agree .. about anything … it will be done.” Very often a one-on-one witness can be suspect in the eyes of the individual being challenged – a united effort may be required. This, of course, raises the question of the Church because Jesus continues to say that if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church.”

So, we face the challenge to the Church which must ensure that it, too, listens to his voice and does not harden the heart. The ‘official’ Church must also identify itself as an authentic witness and not a combatant, competitor or contestant. Recall what Pope Francis said about witness departing from the point of clarity about ones own identity. We (the Church also) need to understand and accept that there is not a single relationship (even with Christ) that fits neatly into categories like friend or rival. It has been said that

“the love of God is not transmitted in the church you sit in, but in the way it is lived. Blanket pulpit statements are often unhelpful. Love, kindness and respectful listening are often more influential than literal application of rules.”

“Let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.”

Does this mean the unreceptive must be cast into outer darkness? Hardly …. a few weeks ago we heard of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman, and how often does he eat and talk with tax collectors and sinners. In simple terms – we should never give up.

We must labour all the harder – push the wheelchair … we must be there for the long haul.