Deuteronomy 34:1-12 Psalm 66: 1-8 Matthew 18:15-20
When I studied Family Systems Theory I learned about healthy and unhealthy forms of communication. Kids naturally try to divert responsibility for their mistakes away from themselves by blaming others for whatever goes wrong. They may start by blaming a chair for tripping them, but quickly they graduate to blaming someone, anyone, for moving the chair into their path. As they get older they figure out that when they have a problem with someone, they can run to mommy or daddy or someone else to “fix it.”
In today’s gospel, Jesus is teaching us about a differ way to resolve conflicts. Healthy communication is difficult because it requires us to take responsibility for our relationships with others. So, rather than run to mommy, daddy, a sibling, friend, or other members of the church in hopes they will make it all better, Jesus teaches us to go directly to the person who has wronged us and try to reconcile our difference. Many of us, however, like to get confirmation we have been wronged by telling a friend and having them on our side before be we confront the person who has offended us. Doing this, however, involves a third party unnecessarily. Part of the risk of confronting our offender, is that we might learn that we ourselves were in the wrong. Thus, without that confirmation from a friend, we need to approach the conversation in such a way that we are open to accepting responsibility for our actions. This, in and of itself, increases the chances of reconciliation.
Go to the member of your church in private, Jesus teaches, and “if the member listens to you, you have regained that one.” This is not only an example of healthy communication, it is practicing the Golden Rule. No one wants their sins to be made public and the only way to prevent that is to go to the person who has sinned against us in private. I’ve always appreciated it when someone has confronted me directly as opposed to talking behind my back. It gives me a chance to explain myself or apologize – whichever is appropriate. It gives me a chance to make things right.
Private confrontations do not always work. Sometimes we do need to get others involved, so Jesus teaches us not to give up if it fails. Instead we are to take one or two others with us and try again. The goal is not to have them take our side, but to restore the relationship. It may come to a point when it is best to sever our ties to that member – but not, Jesus teaches us, until we have done what we can to repair the broken relationship. Ending a relationship may be necessary, however, 3for the good of the community, or family, when a member refuses to do the difficult work of reconciliation.
This passage ends with Jesus saying, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” From this, I think we can safely assume that when we are gathered in Christ’s name, conflicts can be resolved, because the unifying love of Christ will prevail. Filled with the love of Christ, we want what is good for each other rather to be right.
Let us pray.
Loving God, fill us with your spirit that we might build our relationship on trust and respect. Help us to show our respect for others by communicating directly with them and inviting them to gather together in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.