The Gospel raises a very practical issue: how to act when someone close to you is treating you badly. Obviously these kind of problems occurred even in the first Christian community. Today’s Gospel gives us a way of tackling a problem like this. First of all, however, let us take a look at the usual way the injured party goes about solving the problem.
We begin by keeping it to ourselves. It may be that we are ashamed or simply unable to talk about it to anyone. So we pretend that everything is normal. Meanwhile we brood over the injury. This tends to magnify it. We become sullen and sour and depressed, and may cut the offender off as a kind of revenge.
Eventually, unable to keep it to ourselves, we begin to tell others about it – friends, neighbors, relatives. Sometimes total strangers are brought into it. We bring them in, not as advisers, but as people who will corroborate our reading of the situation and who will sympathize with us. The last person to hear about the hurt is often the person who is causing it.
Today’s Gospel shows that there is another approach. We should confront the person who is causing the hurt. Indeed, we have a duty to do so. Failure to do so shows a lack of love for the person. Confrontation takes courage and involves risk. But sometimes a little honest talking may clear the air. The person may not be aware of the extent of the hurt he is causing. He may see the light at once, and you have won him over.
The confrontation should not be done in anger or annoyance. Nor should it be done out of a desire to get even. It must be done out of concern for him too, not just out of a desire to appease one’s own wounded pride. Also, before we do it, we should examine our own conscience to see if maybe we are not partly to blame.
The highest point we can attain in a confrontation is when we get the other person to see what he had done wrong and to condemn it himself. If he repents, forgiveness must be warm and without limits or conditions.
If he refuses to see the light, what then? We should seek advice. We should get one or two wise people and enlist their help to face him. The rabbis had a very wise saying: “Judge not alone, for none may judge alone but God”.
If even then we fail, we should go to the community. Community need not necessarily mean the Church. It could mean family, or some other group of concerned and responsible people. The whole aim of the exercise is not to score points against one’s brother, but to help him to amend his ways, and to be reconciled with him. To seek reconciliation is, according to Christ, more important even than offering sacrifice to God. If at the end of the day, reconciliation proves to be impossible, then the verdict you (and the community) come to will be ratified by God. But reconciliation can happen and it leads to great growth for both parties. Reconciliation is hard, but for that reason it should not be left untried. Needless to say, the Christian will pray about it. Prayer disposes one to follow Christ’s approach.