Teasing, name- calling, squabbling and the occasional disputes are all part of our growing up. I clearly recall quite a few disputes with my friends on the football field and the badminton court in my younger days. When I recall these moments today, they somewhat bring about other pleasant memories of friendship and camaraderie. As children, we learned to manage these “disputes” in simpler ways than adults would have done. We may be angry and upset one day but friends and buddies the next. However, as we grow older, these become more contentious and even difficult to overcome.
Our gospel passage today comes from chapter 18 of Matthew’s gospel where the intention is to convey the message that leadership in the Church is measured by humility, service, and mercy and that is why this chapter begins with the question, ‘Who is the greatest?’. Greatness was not going to be measured by power, wealth, or assertiveness but service that finds its utmost childlike dependence of God.
The first part of the gospel today reflects on the need for fraternal correction in order to win over someone who may have gone astray. The 3 levels of “correction” – that is, doing it privately, enlisting the assistance of others along, and finally soliciting the authority of the Church, was never intended to not point out the faults but to bring the one who has strayed back into the fold.
When someone does something wrong, the tendency is to push the person away. However, the gospel today clearly points out the need to engage when someone has done something wrong, especially against us and this can be difficult. What was being done at that time to shame the person and hope the person repents. However, Jesus asks for something more demanding. His aim was not to humiliate and shame the person before others, but rather to win them back with love and mercy in order to preserve the unity of Christ’s body.
As adults, we tend to manage conflicts by reacting to others and at times things can be blown out of proportion. We can quite easily take the ‘eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth’ approach or in other words, fighting fire with fire. A key difference between a child and an adult when resolving conflicts is that with the child, their emotions pass very quickly, forgotten swiftly. On the other hand, adults attempt to find blame in a conflict, and often this can lead to very strong emotions that do not pass very quickly and they tend to get harboured with other aspects of the adult life.
The problem with many of us is that we see the faults of others and then take joy in pointing them out and bad mouthing others – a clear recipe for the destruction of the body of Christ, the Church. Claiming the ‘moral high ground’ over others may win us a certain group of friends but we may in that process loose the grace of being forgiven for our own failures.
Did not the Lord teach us, ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us?’ For the Church to flourish, we must conquer our tendencies and bad habits of seeing only faults and failures of others and resisting the temptation to amplify them. The Church must be a place where many should not only feel the presence of a transcendental God but an immanent God through the warmth of the hearts of the faithful expressed through forgiveness, mercy, and love. It is only then ‘where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.’ Amen.