"You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel."
That's the Lord's message to Ezekiel.
And what does a watchman do? He keeps his eyes open for danger; he watches from a tower to look out for anything or anyone that could harm the city. If an enemy was coming, the watchman would see them a long way off; and the city would be ready when trouble came.
A prophet, like Ezekiel, does this in an even deeper way. As our first reading says, he speaks God's word to the people of Israel. When they stray from their relationship with God, he warns them. He calls them back to the Lord who loves them and has provided for them.
That is the role of the Church as well.
Throughout history, the Church has always called anyone who will listen to a relationship with the Lord. That is incredible news! But it also means challenging what is sinful in the world and that will never make you popular. Look at the prophets: they suffered, some of them were exiled or even killed.
When the teachings of the Church contradict what the way we'd like to live, our natural inclination is to reject them; but everything the Church teaches today flows from what God has revealed to us, starting in the Old Testament, fulfilled in Jesus, and handed down by the apostles and their successors.
That prophetic duty is given in a particular way to the official teachers of the Church: the pope and the bishops. They, along with the priests that help them, have been charged to teach the Faith at all times whether people accept it or make fun of it or reject it. It is a pastor who loves the people entrusted to him who will be able to speak hard, unpopular truths.
And why would the Church do this? Why say to the world things that will almost definitely be rejected? Why would we do the incredibly awkward thing Jesus tells us to do in the gospel today?
There are two good reasons:
First, because sin is harmful to us. It's not just wrong because a rule is broken, but it hurts us because it cuts us off from God.
Second, because of love.
In our second reading today, Paul says that all the commandments can be summarized as, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." That is the driving force behind everything God does - and we should be able to say the same for ourselves.
Love impels us to bring others to God. It also impels us to recognize the areas in our own lives where we reject God.
Sin, even the so-called "private" ones in our own heads, affects the whole Church because we are connected as the Body of Christ. That means that reconciliation - with God, the Church, and each other - builds up the whole body.
Let us courageously proclaim the truth of the Gospel to the world and just as courageously apply it to ourselves.
Note: the title of this post comes from, what I think is, one of the best songs ever written. I think of it whenever I hear today's first reading. Here's Bear McCreary's excellent version: