Gospel Reading: MT 18:15-20
JESUS said, ‘If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you: the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge. But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.‘I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.‘I tell you solemnly once again, if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’
Other Readings: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Rom 13:8-10
IT is safe to say that those who are attending Sunday Mass profess the same faith. We all believe in God just as we say in the Creed and we all like to be called followers of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.
Being followers of Christ, we naturally follow his teachings about loving the Lord our God with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our minds and about loving our neighbors as ourselves. (Mt 22: 38-39)—or at least we try. The logic following these—belief in Christ and adherence to his teachings—is that the world should be living in peace. We should be all living in harmony with one another; especially in a family, in a community, and in a country that predominantly share the same Christian faith (Christianity comprises 31.5 percent of the world’s population according to the 2012 Pew Research Center).
And yet we know both in the long history of the Church and the reality we face today suggest otherwise. Disagreements still exist, disputes still exist, and conflicts still exist, even between people of the same beliefs and faith. Furthermore, we hear in today’s gospel Jesus teaching how to address disputes and conflicts between brothers or sisters of the faith; private consultation, a quiet community proceeding, and, finally, public disassociation. Each step grew in weight and import.
From the readings we can take two lessons. The first is that Jesus’ teaching is about keeping the community of the faithful united and living in true peace. This does not mean we should avoid conflicts or disputes because true peace is not just the absence of conflict. Yes often times it is much easier to avoid disagreements—to “keep the peace”. We don’t want to be seen as judgmental. We may also fear being rejected if we speak up. The trouble, of course, doing these things doesn’t usually work. And it usually leads to misunderstanding and, at some point, an explosion and creates a much bigger problem.
Furthermore, other person may be genuinely unaware that he or she had done anything wrong, and would feel aggrieved that the matter wasn’t raised earlier. One Dominican priest rightly says that indeed, just being nice “can too easily become a cover for indifference, dishonesty and downright cruelty.” We are being encouraged to face disagreements, disputes and conflicts; and to correct our fellow men and women where we feel sinned against not because we want to humiliate them but precisely because we love them. Moreover, we would want others to correct us if we are the ones doing the wrong things.
The same Dominican priest stated that “sin is anything which breaks the bonds of love, which divides us within ourselves as well as divides us from God and from others. Salvation is God’s gift of healing and raising up, of making whole again what was broken.” This I think is the spirit behind the words that we heard from Ezekiel in the first reading: “When you hear a word from my mouth, warn them in my name.” In other words, in the first reading we are being taught that we are responsible for our brothers and sisters and it is an obligation on our part to correct our brothers or sisters albeit in the spirit of love and charity.
The second lesson we can take home is that we need each other to become true followers of Christ—to be able to live a Christian life. We are called and graced to heal each other.
Alone we may—and, in fact do—struggle and fail. But with love, care, support and even the correction from our brothers and sisters, we are able to overcome our weaknesses and become not just good people but holy people. Because the driving force of how we relate with each other is God himself who is holy. When we were baptised, we are not just initiated into a community but more importantly we are saved, redeemed through that community. For God did not bring salvation to an individual but a people. As an old Latin saying goes: “Unus Christianus, nullus Christianus” (a single Christian is not a Christian at all). So the preserving the unity of our community is good for our salvation.
Jesus encouraged his followers to act in spite of the cost, if the situation demanded it. He insisted that God would approve any resolution of disputes and even discipline done by consensus. Why? Because we can hold on to his promise to us that when two or three people are gathered in his name He will be present to guide that gathered community. The same encouragement–and challenge–is given to us in order to build up the Kingdom of God in the here and now and promote true peace and true harmony under God.