This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
“If a member listens to you, you have regained that one.” (Matthew 18.15b)
Nobody knows why Wendy and Carol have stopped being good friends. There was a time when they did most things together but now they seldom even talk to each other. In fact it’s worse than that. They say unkind things about each other. And when together at a meeting or social event they sometimes even make snide remarks to each other.
No-one knows why this has happened but it’s beginning to make church life difficult for others, creating an atmosphere of tension and distrust at various church events.
But Wendy and Carol remember only too well. Each one keeps reminding herself of the wrong done to her by the other. Neither can bring herself to believe she may carry some responsibility for the falling out. Both seem to hang on to their anger and to nurse their grudge like a comfort blanket.
This rift between the two of them has never been talked about openly. No-one has tried to bring about a peace treaty to end the hostile separation.
It could all be so different if one of them, or even a third party, could put into practice the process of reconciliation outlined by Jesus in today’s Gospel reading.
Jesus teaches us that when we have a disagreement with, or are harmed by, another member of our church we are to seek to be reconciled to that person. We do this by talking through the issues that have arisen and by listening carefully to what the other person has to say. If Wendy and Carol had followed this path they might have talked to each other over a cup of tea and come away still friends, maybe all the closer for having shared this experience.
Whatever caused the rift in the first place might turn out to be a misunderstanding by one or both of the women. Or it may have been something said or done in a moment of stress or anxiety without the intention of harming the other. Jesus says that if we can sort out our differences between ourselves we will have gained, or re-gained, a friend.
Sometimes, though, the wounds of anger and conflict go very deep and can’t be healed without the support of others to witness what is said. Jesus suggests that if we can’t settle things face to face we need to have one or two people with us who can perhaps ease the painful process of seeking reconciliation.
Jesus then gives guidance for the next stage if it’s needed.
Any division between its members can harm the life and witness of a church and if other ways don’t heal that division the church needs to be involved as a last resort. Perhaps because of the harm conflicts can do to a church Jesus says that if there is still no sign of peace and reconciliation then the person who has done wrong is to be excluded from the church fellowship. But the work of seeking that person’s return to fellowship carries on after that exclusion. Gentiles and tax-gathers may be outcasts of society but Jesus tells us still to love them and seek their salvation because they too are loved by God.
It takes courage to talk openly about differences we have with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If we feel we have been wronged we need to approach the person who has wronged us with love and a willingness to forgive. If someone else tells us that we have harmed them in some way we need humility and honesty to listen and respond appropriately to what we are told.
In both cases we need always to be open to realising that there have been short-comings on both sides or a misunderstanding that drew us to reach wrong conclusions.
This way of resolving conflict which Jesus teaches us is not easy or painless. It requires self-knowledge, humility and a determination to walk in paths of peace.
But when we do seek this kind of reconciliation we can know that because we are meeting together in the name of Jesus he will be there with us. And when we are working together to seek God’s will for us then he will respond to our prayers. Those are the promises of Jesus whose work for reconciliation took him to the cross. On his promises we can depend.
- Unresolved conflicts can cause damage both to those personally involved and to the wider church around them.
- Jesus has taught us a loving way of working towards reconciliation.
- His way of humility and honesty can be painful but he will be with us at every stage.
- Even when someone has to be excluded from the church they are still to be loved and helped to return to fellowship.
Let us pray together to our loving God in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is among us now as our brother and friend.
We pray for all our brothers and sisters in Christ who together form his Body in the world. We pray for forgiveness and healing where there is division and hurt and we ask God to show us the way to be reconciled with those we distrust or dislike.
We pray for all peoples and nations caught up in conflict, unable or unwilling to seek peaceful ways to live together in God’s world. We pray for humility and honesty among those in authority so that they seek reconciliation and an end to disharmony.
We pray for the communities and families around us. We pray that wherever there is bullying, oppression, abuse or neglect there will be those who also show God’s loving gentleness towards both the cruel and their victims.
We pray for all who are suffering pain of body, mind or spirit asking God to be alongside them, and those who care for them, offering love, strength and peace.
Loving God we thank you for your assurance that you hear our prayers and work only for good in the lives of those for whom we pray. Help us to trust in your love and to be willing to play our part in your work to bring peace and reconciliation wherever there is conflict and division. We ask this in the name of your Son our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.