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23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Meditation Reflection: Matthew 18:15-20
Incorporation into the Christian community means being adopted into a family. This in turn means we have a greater responsibility toward our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus knows families can struggle with dysfunctional ways of dealing with things – from gossip, to triangulating, to manipulation or passive aggressive tactics, and more. As the head of the Christian family however, He provides us with clear instructions about the best way to love our brother or sister in difficult situations.
First, Jesus tells us to confront our loved one directly if they have hurt us in some way. This means we cannot play the martyr, hope they read our mind, let it build up, or sweep it under the rug. Jesus knows healthy relationships require honest communication and ongoing reconciliation. We all sin and we all inevitably treat our loved ones unfairly or unkindly. To move forward reconciliation is essential. In our pride however, we sometimes don’t even realize we are hurting the one we love unless they tell us. Jesus instructs, therefore, that Christian love should make the person aware of their sin. The Church actually lists this as a Spiritual Work of Mercy called “admonish the sinner.” It’s not meant to be mean or judgmental, but to help a person grow into Christian maturity.
If the person won’t listen, likely claiming that you are being unfair, then Jesus proposes you bring another witness or two. The goal would be to open the person’s eyes to their sin so they can change, and reconciliation occur. Sometimes the perspective of a couple of people can help to establish with objectivity the truth of the situation. It’s amazing how blind we are to our sinful attitudes and habits, especially toward our family! Even when confronted, we hold on so tightly, and refuse to change. We often rationalize, “This is how I am. My family should just love me unconditionally.” However, because our family loves us unconditionally, we should try even harder to change because they deserve the best version of ourselves not the worst.
In general, Jesus wants us to avoid the tornadic plague of gossip or the festering sore of passive aggressive retaliation. He wants His family to be happy, healthy, and loving. Direct communication and the ally of one or two close friends is usually enough for most problems. However, there are some injustices which require wider assistance and, if not changed, are too destructive to let go on. For instance, if a family member refuses to change his or her abusive behavior or treat an addiction, it needs to be brought to light for the whole family. If the person still refuses to change, family members are sometimes forced to separate themselves from the person in order to protect themselves and others, and in love withdraw from enabling the abuser or addict. It may seem extreme and even un-Christian; however Jesus came to conquer sin not to support it. Paradoxically, separating from addicts or abusers can motivate healthy change. At the very least, it is a way of evangelizing. It shows by your actions that the behavior is wrong. Lastly, Jesus assures us that although we have a serious responsibility toward the souls of our Christian brothers and sisters, ultimately we are not responsible for their behavior. At the end of the process, we can have peace that we have done everything we could. We must work tirelessly for the salvation of souls, but we must also know the limits placed on us by their free will.
Thankfully, we can always be a blessing to others through prayer and sacrifice. Even if we must separate from someone physically, financially, or even in communication, we can still pray for them. Moreover, just as Jesus exhorted us to confront a person together, He also exhorts us to pray for others together. As children of God, and heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), our prayers come before Him with all the force and influence a son or daughter can have on their father, especially when they plead with him as a family.
In conclusion, the vocation of marriage plays an important role in the formation of this mindset and the practice of applying Christian love to all different kinds of situations. In his encyclical Familaris Consortio, Pope St. John Paull II called the family the first “school” of Christian love, from which persons develop the Christian self-giving habits necessary for mature interaction with the world as adults. He wrote:
“The family is the first and fundamental school of social living: as a community of love, it finds in self-giving the law that guides it and makes it grow. The self- giving that inspires the love of husband and wife for each other is the model and norm for the self-giving that must be practiced in the relationships between brothers and sisters and the different generations living together in the family. And the communion and sharing that are part of everyday life in the home at times of joy and at times of difficulty are the most concrete and effective pedagogy for the active, responsible and fruitful inclusion of the children in the wider horizon of society.“
True love is more than an emotion. It’s a decision to choose the good for one’s beloved. The best course of action isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always clear. Thankfully, we are not alone in this. We can look to Jesus and to our Christian family to share the burden.
- Consider the gift of being God’s daughter or son. Reflect on Jesus’ love for you as your Brother.
- Consider how you handle conflict. What do you do well? What could you improve?
- How might you apply Jesus’ instructions for resolving problems to a situation in your life?
- When has someone shown “tough love” toward you? How did their loving honesty help you grow?
- St. Padre Pio said, “Prayer is the best weapon we possess. It is the key that opens the heart of God.” Consider the power of prayer to fight for our brothers and sisters.
Make a Resolution (Practical Application):
- Apply Jesus’ process to a conflict in your life this week.
- Resolve not to gossip this week; Say a prayer every day for someone who bothers you.
~ Written by Angela Jendro © 2019