Dear friends. On the night before he died, Jesus left us the great commandment to ‘love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15:12). Our calling as a Church is to be a community whose members love one another no matter what. We are to be a sign of unity and love to the wider world. Yet Jesus was also a realist who knew that disputes would inevitably arise between his disciples. In today’s Gospel, he gives wise and practical guidance on how differences can be overcome. Here is a wisdom and teaching is just as relevant and effective now as it was back then.
The first thing to say about Jesus’ teaching is how important it is not to ignore a situation where one has wronged another. If injustices have happened, they need to be faced and dealt with. They should not be allowed to fester. The Lord is asking us not to accept situations where we don’t get along but to make every effort, with his grace, to be reconciled. Remember our calling to be a sign of a people who are forgiven but who also practise the art of forgiving.
The second part of Jesus’ teaching is to have the courage to speak to the person with whom we don’t get along, or with whom we have had an argument, face to face. If this has happened, wait for a while for feelings to cool down and then seek to meet the person, maybe over a coffee, to talk about it. Often we can talk about the faults of someone to everyone except the person involved. It takes real courage to make the first move and to meet the person to try and work things out. One to one and face to face is always the best place to begin. It takes courage to do this because we risk hearing things we don’t want to hear or maybe we will have to admit that we might have been wrong too. But once we are open to this then the chance is greater that things will go well. For us Christians, what matters is not who was right but what was right and what is right.
Another reason we try to meet and talk with people with whom we have issues is because we love them. Often we don’t get involved with people or confront them because we want to protect ourselves, to stay safe and to avoid conflict. On the other hand, engaging with them openly is more risky but is born out of love and a desire to grow in love. In the end this ought to be our highest goal, to grow in love and to welcome the words of someone who gently points out our faults because they want us to become better people.
The third and fourth steps that Jesus prescribes is the appropriate mediation of others when necessary. It is often said that in any dispute, there is my truth, your truth and the bit in between. The mediation of a third party or the community can help see that ‘bit in between’ and widens the process of one being against another. It also means that the whole community has a responsibility to help its members be reconciled. The Gospel tells us that there is the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the community that lifts us out of conflict and away from paths that lead to self-destruction. For whenever Christians meet to try and reconcile in his name, there is the Lord in the midst of them as he promised. When we invite him into the midst of any difficult situation, he is always there, moving us to deeper understanding and an end to tension so that we can be true to who we are called to be – a sign to the world of a people who know how to forgive and love each other, despite the inevitable conflicts that arise.