WEEK TWO: RELATIONSHIPS
MATTHEW 18:15-17 (NRSV)
If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
Jesus is teaching us how to rectify someone who has done wrong. At first, his instruction seems confrontational and harsh, but we know that Jesus is teaching us the most loving and faithful way to rectify problems with another person. Jesus’ words are especially important for the life of the church. So often, people of faith hesitate to confront anyone, because doing so seems unkind. Words of correction are also very difficult to say face to face. We may tell ourselves that we will just forgive and forget about the issue, but end up telling others instead- and the gossip and triangulation begin.
We all make mistakes. We all need gentle correction from time to time. It hurts SO much more to receive criticism from a third person rather than the one we have wronged. Not only do we feel embarrassed by our sin, we also feel singled out. We feel as if we haven’t been given a chance to explain. We wonder how many others have heard about us. We may assign the wrong intent for the words said because we aren’t hearing them from the person directly; words said lovingly or gently may be perceived as critical or malicious when we hear them from someone else.
It seems to me that texts, emails and messages have become our “third person” these days. We find we can more easily send off a complaint or try to rectify a problem without speaking to a person directly. I once emailed a mom about her daughter’s misbehavior during a youth group event. I mistakenly believed that I could explain everything better in writing (and to be honest, I didn’t want to face her). The poor mom opened the email while she was at work- not a good time to receive such news. She read my message as critical and accusatory. I’m sure no emoji or sticker could convey my loving intention. She was justifiably sad, upset and angry. We had a better conversation later, but the damage had been done.
Jesus shows us a better way. When we speak individually and directly with a person, we are more likely to convey our message with gentleness, respect and love. Rather than send an angry text in a moment of frustration, we instead consider our words carefully, allow time to regroup, and even evaluate whether the issue is that important. Adding two or three others when necessary also helps us to hold one another accountable- is what we are feeling or witnessing valid and true? As followers of Christ, we are called to take the better way, no matter how difficult. Jesus gives us the best way to rectify- perhaps the uncomfortable way, but the right and loving way.
Recall a time when you received correction or complaints from a third person or a written message. How did you react- and how willing were you to rectify whatever wrong you had done?
How do you handle gossip? Is there a difference between gossiping and simply listening to gossip?
How might we hold one another accountable to Jesus’ way of rectifying? Are there any changes you could make to your way of rectifying problems with others?
You know so well that none of us are perfect! Thank you for loving us anyway. Help us to strengthen our loving relationships by following the ways of Jesus. Guide us as we hold one another accountable. Help us to rectify any wrongdoings with grace, truth, kindness, trust, and respect for one another- in person. Amen.