Bitterness, resentment, anger or hatred you harbor against someone destroy relationships not only among friends but also among family members. Don’t forgive, and you’re looking at relationships damaged beyond repair.
I chose this gospel reading (Matt 18:15-20) for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time in our liturgical calendar (Sept. 7, 2014) because I find it to be the most relevant to what I believe is the most common cause of failed relationships among friends, families and, to some extent, even among peoples of diverse cultures and traditions.
When reading this Gospel narrative, there is a tendency especially among charismatic communities to follow to the letter the suggestions laid down by Jesus relative to how differences and sins are to be addressed and resolved. And there are some who actually subscribe to these guidelines.
Granting for the sake of argument that we follow what Jesus said in v.17 “treat him as you would a pagan, or a tax-collector,” will this not contradict what He said in v.21-22 of the same chapter?
We need to look beyond the written words of the Scriptures in order for us to grasp the full meaning and substance of what God is telling us. This Gospel narrative shows that we have to rely not only on the counsel of the Holy Spirit but also on the works of other Biblical scholars.
It would be good for us to read not just this Gospel passage before us which, in this case, is v.15-20 but also the preceding passages and the following passages thereafter because in them we will find what Jesus truly meant.
Remember that the preceding passage was about the lost sheep, and it is clear that Jesus was referring to sinners as the lost sheep that must be found. Hence, He prescribes certain measures on how to deal with sinners.
Clearly, this is a message for believers, and not for those who do not share our faith. This should also not be used as an authority by anyone who may have hurt us to just bring our conflict to the Church. Far from it because the real intent of these steps that Jesus are suggesting are meant to bring healing and reconciliation.
And the message for us is that most often, many of us do exactly the opposite of what is being suggested here. When we are hurt, we run away, carrying with us our hatred, anger and bitterness. There are even times when revenge against our oppressors crosses our minds.
Difficult as it may seem, what Jesus was saying is for us to go to that person who has wronged us and forgive him/her as this would create an atmosphere that could help fix broken relationships. And the grant of forgiveness should be made without any precondition because this should be freely given.
While Jesus may indeed be talking of the participation by the Church in resolving conflicts among believers, decisions of the Church come as a result of its discernment with the Word of God as its basis because the Church is mandated to use the guidance of the Holy Spirit to resolve conflicts.
Outside of the Church, the need to enter into a dialogue with anyone who may have wronged us is necessary because there is the possibility that what we may be harboring in our hearts is a wrong perception.
People are relational beings, and there are many instances when spoken words are being passed on are no longer the same as the original words. Again, granting that the offender justifies his/her action and refuses to reconcile and or heed the guidance of the Church, we are not to take literally what Jesus said in v.17 “treat him as a pagan or a tax-collector” because what Jesus actually meant is that we are to treat the one who wronged us with sympathy and we should not lose hope because they can still be won, e.g. Levi and Zacchaeus.
And finally, Jesus establishes the foundation that can impel us to forgive and bring the lost ones back into the fold, and that is through prayer. Indeed, Jesus is present in all the areas of our lives, and there is no place we can hide from him.
At the end of the day, the Cross should remind us that there are no conditions to forgiveness because Jesus ransomed us even if we don’t deserve it.
Let me end by encouraging you to extend an olive branch to anyone in your family, church, workplace and friends whom you may have wronged, whom you may have hurt either by words or actions – knowingly and unknowingly.