Jesus said, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Today’s Gospel reading is not about conflict management, though we definitely need it very much nowadays in our family, workplace, community, Church, nation and international relations. The reading is about the grace when we live out this teaching of Jesus because he was and still is at work in the world.
The reading can be divided into two parts. The first part runs from verse 15 to 17, which is the teaching itself. The second part, which covers verse 18 to 20, animates the teaching with a spiritual foundation. This division reminds us that all conflicts must be resolved with both the moral side and the spiritual side. If we focus conflicts simply on its moral side, we would miss the role of our faith in resolving conflicts. Such an unfortunately situation would leave us being no different from people who have no faith in resolving conflicts.
On the moral side of Jesus’ teaching about how to resolve conflicts, we should pay attention to the fact that Jesus does not make the conflict in question out of proportion. He starts with those conflicts that would cause least harm and moves gradually to more serious ones. Note how he resolves each category of conflicts with its appropriate suggestion. If a conflict is underdone or overdone, the result would not be ideal. How can we know what is the appropriate procedure to resolve a conflict? Jesus says it is simple if we make sure that if we start to try with the procedure that would cause the least harm to other party. Should that fails, then we move to the next level by enlisting the help of other individuals. If that also doesn’t work, we escalate it to the whole community for ruling and judgment.
The difficult part of today’s reading is the spiritual foundation to Jesus’ teaching. Here, we are reminded that whatever is our decision at the end of the day, “my Father in heaven” knows. It is warning against our impulsive rush to reach a decision without giving due consideration to all factors concerned in a conflict.
Knowing our human finitude, Jesus at the end of today’s reading encourages us to strive for the ideal how conflicts should be ended and resolved. May we pray for the grace of knowing Jesus’ presence in all human conflicts. His message is one of reconciliation, not retribution. We are asked to regain our brother or sister. Jesus promises his continuing presence. Even as I pray alone, I am united with others who pray at this time, with all of those who read this gospel today. Amen.