This week’s Gospel from Matthew holds a valuable treasure for how to successfully deal with the conflicts, hurts, and separations we experience in our relationships. No one has escaped the pain, frustration, or anger of feeling we have been wronged by another’s words or actions.
Jesus’s teaching to the disciples is clearly laid out step-by-step. The first step is to go privately, face-to-face to the offender and speak directly and plainly expressing the offense. Naming the fault should be done quietly and gracefully. We often get stuck and reverse the order of this wisdom by going to step two first when we go and gossip to another our tale of woe. We then foolishly wait for the aggressor to come to us and acknowledge their fault and ask for forgiveness, however, this rarely happens. Perhaps that is caused by our fear confrontation and fear being rejected. We may try to tough it out or pretend the words or actions did not hurt. We mistakenly believe that, by playing nice, we will win the person over.
The problem is we end up blaming ourselves or the other and then brood over the situation as we carry a heavy heart for days on end. Sometimes, the offender wants to sweep it under the rug pretending nothing ever happened.This leaves us both feeling uncomfortable and, the longer we wait to face the problem, the harder it is to resolve. We then suffer more because of the silence as resentment and anger build up between both people.
However, on our better days when we have a “nip it in the bud” approach, we are amazed at the freedom we experience as we lay our hearts open and the offender acknowledges our feelings and listens to our words. At that moment “we have won our brother or sister.” When the offender owns their fault and asks for forgiveness it is a win-win gain for everyone.
If step one fails to yield results, the next step is to seek a wise impartial mediator who can listen to both sides. This can often bring clarity and new perspective as the walls of resentment, judgment, and anger dissolve. If step two fails, the final step is to bring a representative of the church into the matter. In most cases this rarely happens, but when it does it can bring mutual healing and union, but it may also remained unresolved. The main thing is that the offended party has done everything they can and then the “ball is in the other person’s court.”
Our prayer for those who resist this grace are the words from today’s psalm: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your heart.”
Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there with them.“ Perhaps this is a key to implement at stage one if both parties begin by calling on and acknowledging God is with them. The discussion can then begin from a place where each can speak from the heart and not the ego. The focus is not proving who is right. It is rather a humble commitment of two members of the body of Christ honoring and listening to each other from the common ground of prayer.
There will always be a need for us as Christians to practice dealing with conflict from a place of love, mercy and compassion. Our main goal is reconciliation, forgiveness, and freedom. This is Jesus desire for us as his beloved sons and daughters. May we continue to move in this circle of love which takes us from sin to forgiveness, from death to life, and from hurt to healing.
Just tolerating broken relationships is not the cure or desire we seek. Unaddressed conflict results in separation within each individual’s heart and soul. When sin is brought into the light we have an opportunity to honestly and humbly face it together as we surrender to the power of forgiveness. We bind each other when we refuse forgiveness and mercy. We loosen and free each other when we quickly and gently speak to those who hurt us. Whether speaking or listening may we all forgive and heal and may we also let go and grow as we meet in that field and receive the treasure of love, wholeness, and reconciliation.