Gospel of Sunday, 7th September 2008
If he does not listen
esus said to his disciples: "If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. If he listens to you, you have won back your brother.
If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you; the evidence of two or three witnesses is required to sustain any charge.
But if he refuses to listen to these, report it to the community; and if he refuses to listen to the community, treat him like a pagan or a tax collector.
I tell you solemnly, whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.
Have you ever had this experience: some one close to you was doing something wrong, something that was harmful to themselves or to others, and you wondered if you should say something to the person, or do something about the wrong that was being done? It may have been a family member whose behaviour was upsetting others in the house, a relative who was drinking heavily, or a young person mixing with dangerous company.
When faced with a situation like that, it is easy to do the wrong thing. On the one hand we may be so careful and so timid that we do nothing. On the other hand we may rush in, especially if we are angry, and say or do something that does more harm than good.
Jesus gives three down-to-earth steps for dealing with this kind of situation. I invite you to look at them and see how they fit with your own experience. In the Gospel story Jesus calls the person who is doing the wrong ‘your brother;’ so I will call him our ‘brother’ also, remembering of course that it could be our sister too.
The first step
The first step is to ‘go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves.’ This is not easy to do and most of us would find it daunting. He might fly into a rage, tell us to mind our own business, or ask us, ‘Who do you think you are? Who gave you the right to tell other people how to live their lives?’ So we need courage. And we need something else as well. We need to ask ourselves: why am I doing this? If the answer is: I want to put him in his place, or I want to show that I am better than he is, then I had better wait a bit before I say anything. The only safe reason for correcting another is that I care – I care about the person doing the wrong and I care about the one being wronged. As St. Paul said, ‘Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour.’ We need a little wisdom also; is this the right time to speak? Will I make things better or worse?
That first step may be successful and there is no need for the other two. Our brother listens, he does not get angry, he recognizes the truth of what we say and he changes his ways. In that instance, we have, in the words of Jesus, ‘won back our brother.’ But even if he gets vexed and storms out, this may not mean that we have wasted your time. He may think better of it later.
The second step.
If he refuses to listen or to think better of his behaviour, what do we do then? We often give up too soon. We may wrongly assume that the way of Jesus is to do nothing, to let things be and to put up with them. Jesus tells us what the second step is: Bring one or two others with you and talk to him again. We may call in a few people who are better able to help him than we are. And he cannot dismiss three as easily as he dismisses one.
In addiction treatment centres, patients often deny that they have a problem. An alcoholic may say that his wife is exaggerating, that he likes to take a drink but can stop any time he wants, and that his drinking is doing no harm to anybody. As part of the treatment sometimes a number of immediate family members and close friends sit down with the patient and spell out exactly what his pattern of drinking is, what he is like when he is drunk, and what effects his drinking has on other people in his life. This is a painful moment of truth for the patient; he cannot easily deny what he hears from those who love him most.
The third step.
Jesus names a third step: Bring the problem to the community.
Jesus is speaking of a community of his followers, but what he says applies to other communities too. The behaviour of a community member is causing serious harm, he refuses to listen to one person, and he refuses to listen to the two or three. The time for confidentiality has passed. Now the time has come for the community to confront him and give him an ultimatum: if he does not change, he can no longer be in the community. If he still refuses to act responsibly, the community puts him out. It may surprise us to hear Jesus demanding such strong action.
Families sometimes have to take this same strong action. It is especially true for families who are faced with domestic violence. Repeated apologies followed by recurring and increasing violence will no longer be tolerated. Victims are finding the courage to have the violent persons barred from their homes, and the barring orders are not removed unless the offenders show definite proof that they have faced up to their problems and have controlled their destructive behaviour.
Resident associations have confronted known drug dealers, and in a non-violent way have let them know that they will not tolerate the ruthless exploitation of young people in their communities. Individuals, families, communities and whole countries have learned to their cost the truth of the saying: All that is needed for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing.
you were not afraid to speak words of correction
to those who needed to hear them.
Give us your love,
your wisdom and your courage
that we may do the same.