September 6, 2020: Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading: Matthew 18:15-20
Jesus said to his disciples: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
“Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, amen, I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
This is a challenging gospel, especially today when divisiveness and conflict seems to be everywhere. Jesus’ concern is not with minor disputes or petty offenses but behavior that can destroy relationships and potentially cause harm to the welfare of the community.
Jesus’ strategy is based on Torah Law. Parts of it may seem a bit harsh and disconcerting to us but the basics are similar to contemporary conflict resolution models. Implied is the need to not compound the situation with our reaction: Don’t gossip, don’t ignore the problem; don’t let it fester. Just go talk to each other, one-on-one, in private. Have an open non-threatening dialogue. Get help as needed.
Jesus uses the word “listen” four times. Listening requires understanding of what has been said, not necessarily agreement. Yet, listening can lead to a mutually acceptable solution or path forward. Still all attempts may fail, and when they do, the community is not obliged to allow harmful behavior or unjust actions to continue in its midst. Despite exclusion, the former member is never outside God’s love, forgiveness, or the outreach of the community.
Take some time this week to examine your typical reaction when someone “sins” against you. Sometimes, our reactions are so automatic that we may not be consciously aware of them. Ask Providence for help in becoming mindful of your response. If your response needs to change or improve, make a conscious effort. If there is a current situation in your life where the work of reconciliation needs to begin, make a purposeful decision on how you plan to respond.