“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone” (Matthew 18:15).
In teaching us to pray, Jesus added the phrase “as we forgive those who sin against us” because He knows that at any point in time, we are always going to have people who have sinned against us. In truth, being offended by others is part of what it means to be human. The sad fact is that ninety-nine percent of the time, people offend us without even knowing that we have been offended. This is precisely why Jesus in today’s Gospel passage provides us with concrete guidelines when settling disputes.
First, we may wonder, why is it that people would always sin against us? What causes quarrels among people?
1. Pride: the natural tendency to refuse to accept that I am wrong.
2. Anger: the “dis-ease” (unhappiness) that prevents me from making the best possible rational decisions until it subsides.
3. Survival instinct: love for material things which I believe would sustain my life.
4. Ingratitude: the feeling that what has been taken from me is of more value than what I have.
5. Revenge: the false belief that I can only be happy if I succeed at making someone feel as much pain as I currently do.
If we understood these underlining tendencies, we can avoid a lot of quarrels.
Now, we consider the step by step procedure of Jesus Christ to solving quarrels.
Step 1: Go to the person who has hurt you and discuss ONE on ONE with him or her (Matthew 18:15). Surprisingly, this first step is often the most difficult to do. Why? One, to attract the sympathy of others on our side and two, our ego wants us to tell others so as to look good before their eyes while painting the person who has offended us in a bad light.
The truth is that if only we follow this first step of Jesus, we would have quenched the fire before it even begins. Jesus says if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember at that moment that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there, first, go and be reconciled (Matthew 5:23). Jesus is recommending this step not for us to spark off a quarrel; Jesus is not asking us to be confrontational, to vent out our anger, become rude or use bad language, rather He wants us to seek reconciliation.
Very often, when we feel we are right, we wait for the other person to come and apologize and we are willing to wait forever till they admit their fault. Jesus is saying we must do the opposite. If your brother sins against you (that is, if they are the ones at fault), don’t wait for them to come, you go first to seek reconciliation with them. It doesn’t make sense, right? This is why Jesus said, “unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God.”
Think of it, if we cannot try to reconcile with the person who has offended us before telling anyone else, what does this say about us? That we are more interested in winning a fight than in winning a soul. No wonder Jesus says “If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). Quarrels are inevitable, but gaining back a brother is more important than burning a bridge. No one knows tomorrow.
Step 2: If your brother refuses to be reconciled, that is when you may invite one or two persons and if these persons are unable to intervene, then
Step 3: The church. By rejecting the church, the person could then be treated as an unbeliever. This means he would need to be evangelized and catechized all over again. And the truth, as Bishop Barron rightly points out recently (regarding faith in the Holy Eucharist), most of those who fill our pews today are in need of fresh catechism. A brother or sister who rejects the church’s move at reconciliation does so because he/she has either stopped believing in certain truths or was never fully converted in the first place.
Step 4: Prayer. Jesus then goes on to talk about prayer which I would call the ultimate move at settling any dispute. If all human efforts have failed, Jesus says, bring this brother or sister to God, pray about it. “When two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). When last did you pray for those who have offended you? And if you ever did, what was the content of your prayer?
In conclusion, quarrels are sure to happen, but as Christians we have the tools for settling disputes. As St. Paul says, it is a shame that a fellow Christian “brother goes to the law against another brother, and [the case is brought] before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong?…” (1 Corinthians 6:6-7)
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, give me the wisdom to act right and forgive when someone sins against me, Amen
Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu