14 PENTECOST - PROPER XVIII - A - 17 MATTHEW 18. 15-20
For none of us likes confrontation, not really. It is always a difficult thing. Moreover, few of us do it well. As human beings, we have become creative in ways to avoid it, unlike those we have seen on the nightly news in weeks past who seem to enjoy beating up on each other.
Most of us can keep our feelings pent up inside of us. However, there are some who can do it for so long then explode. Sometimes we tell everyone we know about a problem we are having with another person except the one we think is the problem. It is a rare person who can open a tinder subject, discuss it reasonably, and the leave it alone.
Let’s face it most of us fight dirty. We hit below the belt by bringing up things from the past that have nothing to do with the present issue. The natural response of the one on the receiving end is to become defensive.
Reconciliation goes out of the window. Both sides dig in. What began as an attempt to address an issue escalates into an argument. We have seen it all too often and been a part of it ourselves in our relationships with others, whether family or friend.
If it goes too far, relationships are broken and friendships end without either party willing to reach out to the other in an attempt to make amends. Our pride keeps us from doing this. Reconciliation is a huge issue today. We clearly see the results of not doing it. The media will not let us forget.
Campaigns of terror abound, wars and rumors of war continue to grow, and divisions of race and culture in our own country manifest themselves in a divisive manner on a daily basis. We live in a divided country, and yes, even the Church is divided much, I am sure, to the sorrow of Him who died for it.
The prophet Ezekiel, in today’s first lesson realized the sins of his own nation. “Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, as we waste away because of them; how then can we live?” God gave him the answer: turn from your evil ways and live. As St. Paul does in his letter to the Romans, “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
Sadly, many of us as Christians take a head in the sand approach and pretend there is no problem. We can refuse to face the facts, swallow our anger, or resentment, paste over the cracks and carry on as if everything is normal. On the other hand, we simply ignore and avoid the other person or the other group or issue and pretend it does not exist.
As Christians, we have come to convince ourselves that this is what forgiveness is all about. It means pretending that everything is all right, that the other person has not done anything wrong. But that is not it at all. Forgiveness does not mean saying it did not really happen, she did not really say that, or it did not really matter.
In either of those cases, you do not need forgiveness; you just need to clear up a misunderstanding. Forgiveness comes into play when it did happen, when he/she did say that, and it did matter, and you are going to deal with it. Jesus gives us a sequence in today’s gospel on how to put forgiveness and reconciliation into play, in other words, how to deal with it.
First, keep it between you and the one who has offended you. If you feel you have been offended then you be the one to initiate the action, but be prepared for the offender to offer a counter-accusation in which there may be some truth we need to hear. Above all, avoid becoming defensive.
If that does not resolve the issue, then take a witness or two who will serve as a realty check on your judgment. If you are right then they will confirm it.
If that does not turn the other person and move them to reconcile, then Jesus says we are to take it to the church.
If that fails the result is excommunication; a disassociation and separation - a permanently broken relationship.
Yes Jesus was giving his disciples a means of providing forgiveness and reconciliation for members of the church, ending with a disciplinary action that would be needed in the not too distant future if all else failed. However, the same sequence works for us as individuals in our relationship with other human beings.
Reconciliation is a hard challenge that confronts our world today, especially when one nation faces off against another and refuses to back down. The challenge exists in our own nation where our differences are being magnified by race and fanned by hatred and ignorance. It remains a hard challenge within our own families where politics, religion, and life-styles create a breach that sometimes result in permanent separation.
Hate and anger too often override love and forgiveness and we waste away as a people and a nation because of them. Thus, the prophet Ezekiel raised the question: “how then can we to live?” God in Christ gives us the answer: “Love one another as I have loved you.”
No one said it was going to be easy, perhaps that is why it is a rare thing to witness. However, Jesus’ warning about “binding and loosing” does not only apply to the church in her authority to pronounce God’s absolution, but to each of us in our relationships with one another when it comes to forgiveness.
If we fail to forgive we bind that person in their sin, and we bind ourselves to their sin, as God revealed to Ezekiel. However, if we forgive them, and become reconciled to them, then, we give them life, and we gain life; a life that is on based on love - the “new” life Christ gives to all through the merits of His life, death, and resurrection.
“Love does no wrong to a neighbor;” Paul writes, therefore “owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” AMEN+