Jesus makes clear what needs to happen in times of conflict
By: By Sharon Priester
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 4
Ezekiel 33:7-9; Psalm 95:1-2,6-7,8-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20
Matthew’s Gospel is divided into five books, each of which has two parts — the narrative and the “discourse” or sermon. The Gospel for this week and the one for last Sunday are part of Book 4, titled “Transfer of the Kingdom’s Authority.” In the narrative part of this book we read about travel, ministry and instructions to the disciples.
Recall that on the Nineteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Jesus has traveled to Caesarea Philippi and designated Simon, son of Jonah, to be the head of the church: “You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18)
This week, having chosen Peter as the head of the church, Jesus gives a “discourse” to the disciples on how to live in a Christian community. He begins by telling his disciples what should be done in times of conflict with another person. For example, if a person sins against a disciple, the disciple should go to this person by themselves and address the fault. If the person listens and tries to change their behavior so that this doesn’t happen again, the matter is taken care of. If he or she doesn’t listen, however, then it is necessary for the disciple to take one or two others as witnesses and speak to the person again. If the person doesn’t listen, then the matter should be taken to the church, the local congregation of Christians. (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible)
If the person turns a deaf ear to the church, he or she will be turned away. Jesus emphasizes this as he reiterates what he said earlier in regards to the church: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
Just as the Lord wanted Ezekiel to be the “watchman for the house of Israel,” Jesus wants his disciples (and us) to be watchmen, confronting others who sin and helping them to avoid that sin. The purpose of the three-step process — confront the sinner in private, confront the sinner before witnesses and bring the sinner before the church — is to reconcile the sinner to Christ. Each of us is to take responsibility for others in the community as we follow the commandment Paul emphasized to the Romans: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Romans 13:9)
I thought of different kinds of situations where I should have confronted someone. There was that time when I heard someone say something untrue and hurtful about another person. Why didn’t I confront the speaker? Another time I saw someone I know hit another car and drive off. Why didn’t I speak up? There have been occasions when I have seen people in my own community being neglected or discriminated against. Why am I so silent?
We each have instances in our lives when we have the opportunity to demonstrate our faithfulness to God and his commandment to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. . . . You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In our love for God and others, we don’t want to sin and break our relationship with God. Since we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, we don’t want to see our neighbor sin either because we don’t want to see their relationship with God at risk. It is up to us to warn the sinner and try to help them be transformed.
The Gospel ends with Jesus continuing his instructions to the disciples. “If two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) We, too, should come together to pray, knowing that Christ is among us and that our prayers will be answered. It is in this setting that our love of God and our love for our neighbor is joined and we all become one body of Christ.
SHARON PRIESTER is one of six regional directors of religious education working with the diocesan Office of Catechetics. She is a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Bloomington.