Today’s gospel should set straight any doubts you may have whether Jesus intended to found a Church, organized with set rules and guidelines for conduct and behavior. He clearly describes step by step approach for handling disputes. What do we do when someone gets crusty, rains insults, and starts a fight with us? As members of the animal species, the natural tendency is to give it squarely back to them just as it works in society. But Jesus commands Christians to adopt a different approach.
The first approach, which might be the only one needed in nine out of ten cases, yet ignored 99 percent of the time, is to calm down, pray for the light of the H.S and then go to that person and tell him or her how we feel. This cannot be done in anger—to tell her off; but, as St. Paul teaches in the 2nd reading, it should be done out of the debt of love we owe each other. This move is clearly counter-cultural, as Christianity has been through the ages. We do so from the standpoint of Christ who came to save us even when we were ignorant of our crimes. Never underestimate that Christ’s healing truth can touch someone in need through us. Here, approach matters. Pray to use the right words.
The common approach, which is: spend sleepless nights in anger and waiting for apology leaves us broken while the person who hurt us is unconcerned, or even at times unaware that we felt hurt. Anger and depression team with the offender to utterly ruin us. Jesus says: “Go to that person.” Avoid the gossip which we often prefer: telling every single person except the one we ought to tell. Gossip grows from one person to another, and to another who tells another, with the story getting more exaggerated as it is drawn out, and the offence looking worse and worse. Gossips poison everything–families, neighborhoods, Churches. When you gossip, you’re not necessarily telling a lie. Most gossips are exaggerated facts (truth) told to people who have no business knowing them. For example, rather than discuss marital issues with one’s spouse, or as Jesus proposed as the next approach, with one or two reputable persons, many couples would first discuss them with so-called friends who would aggravate the situation. Hence, often for flimsy reasons, a couple who swore love and fidelity to each other at the altar end up shouting insults at themselves as they march to the marriage-destroying courts in our land.
Jesus’ final solution to discord among believers is to tell the Church. Tell your priest, your godfather or mother, or a believing counsellor (Example Curtis and Paula). When you need to resolve life issues, telling lawyers should be last on your list.
What if nothing changes after you’ve exhausted all these options? Jesus says: “Treat the fellow like a Gentile or tax-collector.” Has Jesus armed us with the weapon of patient indifference until the day when from our mansion in heaven we’re glad to see them burning in hell? No! How did Jesus treat the Gentiles and tax-collectors? He won them over and made them disciples—like the Samaritan woman, like the tax collector, Matthew, who gave us the words of today’s gospel, and like the Good Thief, today in paradise. I give St. James the last word: “Whoever brings a sinner back from the error of his ways will save his (own) soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (5:20).