This week’s focus: As we forgive those who trespass against us
Today’s gospel is rich with common sense advice on getting along with each other. That’s a basic theme of the whole 17th chapter of Matthew. We are more than half way through his gospel. We have witnessed the miracles. We have been awed by the Sermon on the Mount. We know Jesus is the messiah. We have been charged to love each other. Following a whirlwind of revelation, this is a gospel of application rather than inspiration.
Jesus takes this time to lay out ways to make love the constant, central focus of our lives. Knowing our imperfections, he knows an essential requisite of sustained love is resolving inevitable conflicts. While originally delivered to simple country folk, the advice rings particularly true in our litigious, hyper-sensitive times.
First of all, it is not an invitation to redress every real or imagined transgression. It is not a hunting license for busybodies. The conditions for action are very precise: If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately. Pope John XXIII had some very good advice for implementing this gospel. He counseled: “See everything, overlook a great deal, correct a little.” We are to act sparingly and lovingly in matters that are serious enough to be classified as “sins” and only when we are directly involved. We should not act out of pride or pique, but from compassionate Christian love. No dramatics. No gotchas. The subsequent steps prescribed could have been taken out of a contemporary handbook for conflict resolution.
We have been cautioned earlier in Matthew not to fixate on the “speck” in our brother’s eye and ignore the “log” in our own. But after thoughtful and prayerful consideration, if we are convinced that corrective action is required, Jesus does not suggest how we should act…he tells us. When and if that time comes for any of us, I pray we have the courage and the kindness to answer the call with a humble, loving spirit. When and if we are ever approached by a brother or sister seeking redress, I pray that we welcome the input and reward the spirit in which it is offered. Bones are strongest where they are healed and knit properly, and so are relationships. We are reminded that practicing Christianity is not a solo-act and it is certainly not without pratfalls for all of us. In this we have Christ’s reassurance: For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.
Faithfully yours in Christ’s love,
The Reverend David F. Sellery, Rector
JESUS MAFA. The Insistent Friend, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48293 [retrieved August 31, 2011].