Wednesday, 19th Week in Ordinary Time – Matthew 18:15-20

Have you ever written a letter to the Bishop regarding a grievance you have with a priest or a deacon? Did you do so before speaking privately with the person who offended you? Did you take your concern to your pastor before taking it to the Bishop?

In today’s gospel reading Jesus gives us great advice for dealing with people who offend us, who we believe have sinned against us. The process begins with speaking privately with the person regarding the offense. In my experience, this first step is often omitted and we begin either with step #2 or even step #3.

When we are offended by someone we tend to speak with friends who are like-minded before we speak to the person who has offended us. We may even gossip about someone who doesn’t do things the way we believe they should be done. Quite likely the person doesn’t even know he’s offended us, although many others are well aware of our indignation.

If we do decide to confront the person regarding the offense, we may choose to skip right to step #2. We do so in the presence of others…those who have the same opinion as us. Rather than sitting down privately with the offender, we confront him or her in the presence of those we know will back us up. This way we really don’t have to listen to what the person has to say about the so-called offense. We can simply accuse him with the support of our friends. We just want to get whatever it is off our chest, rather than seeking meaningful dialogue about the issue.

In my experience, most of the conflict we experience in church community is the result of this rather selfish mindset. The idea that I am right and you are wrong. The idea that if you don’t agree with the way I see things then you are sinning against me. You are not respecting me.

In fact, most times the “offender” is not sinning against anyone. He or she is simply not doing things the way I think they should be done. And if he doesn’t come around to thinking like me when he is confronted by me – if he is even confronted by me – we tend to get even more angry and closed minded about the matter. We decide to continue to gossip about the so-called offender and we may even air our grievances in a letter to the Bishop.

I think one of the lessons Jesus is trying to teach us today is that the world doesn’t revolve around us. That we are not the center of the universe. The Christian life is not about us as individuals, but about us living as a loving member of a larger community.

Of course when we live in community there will be things others do that upset or offend us. It’s inevitable. This doesn’t necessarily mean that those things are sinful. It doesn’t mean that the offender is wrong and we are right. It often means that we simply share a different point of view about something.

If we are offended by another member of the community, Jesus tells us to take our concern to the person directly, privately. This is the best way to have a meaningful dialogue about the issue. We may be able to change the person’s mind if we do, or we might have our mind changed if we truly listen to his or her point of view.

By following step #1 in Jesus’ formula for reconciliation, we just might find that we save ourselves a great deal of angst and avoid the sins of gossip and perhaps even calumny. We may discover that it is we who must change OUR mind, rather than being so determined to call out the offense of the other.