by achristianpilgrim
(A biblical reflection on the 23rd ORDINARY SUNDAY [YEAR A], 7 September 2014)
Gospel Reading: Matthew 18:15-20
First Reading: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalms: Psalm 95:1-2,6-9; Second Reading: Romans 13:8-10
forgivenessThe Scripture Text
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, 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 I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:15-20 RSV)

Today’s Gospel is preceded by a parable, “the parable of the Lost Sheep” (Matthew 18:12-14). This parable is addressed to the disciples to impel them to seek out lost members of the community. The parable emphasizes that the sinful member of the community is never to be despised but must become the focus of concern. Such solicitude is a reflection of God’s own love for sinners. In today’s Gospel, Matthew lays down practical procedures for handling disputes in the community (Matthew 18:15-18).
Some people in our community are too submissive. They continually back off and are afraid to voice an objection, and this gives them a sense of diminished self-worth. Others are too aggressive. They push people about in an arrogant and dominating manner. These are the people with an exaggerated view of self-importance. Abraham Lincoln once spoke to this issue when he said: “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.”
HAPPY JESUSBetween these two extremes is found the ideal quality for good human relationships – assertiveness. Assertive people neither cower from fear nor threaten with force. They frankly express their feelings and hopes to the person or people with whom they are having difficulties. Assertive people are strong, open and peace-loving.
Hurts and wrongs often go undiscussed and unattended because it is hard for us to talk about them. Although we avoid direct confrontations, we often resort to making complaints behind the scene.
“If your brother sins against you,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel, “go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” (Matthew 18:15).This is simply a call to be assertive. Such an action can save untold hardships and enable us to quickly solve many problems which otherwise could linger on for years or even a lifetime. This is true in cases of family life, good neighborhood, or other aspects of human relationships.
If we cannot solve our difficulties with others, Jesus recommends that we seek the help of a third person – not to provide an answer but to be an arbiter so that the disputants can better arrive at a mutual solution.
If the conflict still continues, it should be submitted to the Church for a group decision or the assistance of one who is skilled in that area. This biblical approach to conflict management seeks to achieve peace between people and to avoid lawsuits. It especially seeks to avoid the use of violence to solve problems. The power of “binding and loosing” (here referring especially to decisions about membership in the community) given to Peter in Matthew 16:19 is extended to the Church (Matthew 18:18). And, the community has definite power, particularly when united in prayer (Matthew 18:19-20), because the Risen Lord is in its midst.
Jesus expects us to love one another in an atmosphere of unity and openness, without playing the role of either slave or master. The virtue of assertiveness does not diminish the other person. Through openness, it speaks and listens and achieves a peaceful understanding.
Short Prayer: Lord Jesus, I pray for unity in my Christian communities where I am a member, my family, with my friends, and among all people. Make me an assertive person, Lord, and may the world know that we are Christians by our love for one another. Amen.
Jakarta, 5 September 2014
A Christian Pilgrim