Image: My great-nephew learning how to build
I have been spending the last few days visiting with family and getting to know my niece’s young children. It is fascinating to watch how the developing mind of a two-year-old quickly grasps new words and ideas and quickly makes them his own. It has also been an eye-opening experience to see how much attention and guidance is needed from parents and grand-parents to keep the attention of a toddler and to keep them safe and free from harm as they explore the big world around them.
While we are willing to invest this time and energy in a child we are often not as patient when it comes to our peers. There comes a time when we say that someone is old enough to know better and when someone is acting irresponsibly, we say that they should grow up and stop acting like a child. It is a difficult situation when someone’s behaviour is harmful to a community, to us or even to themselves. What is our responsibility to our neighbour when someone ought to “know better”?
In today’s first reading from the book of Ezekiel, the prophet is appointed as a watchman for the community. It is up to Ezekiel to remind those who have gone astray that they are not following the commands of the Lord and to warn them that, to stay on such a path, brings with it grave consequences. This appointment as watchman is not a burden that is easy to bear as Ezekiel faces similar consequences if he fails in his task to warn. No one enjoys having to be a steward over the behaviour of someone else but in this case it becomes a duty which Ezekiel must take very seriously and, as prophets by virtue of our baptism we are called to do the same.
Of course, it is not a matter of just going around the community and pointing fingers and casting blame. The work of fraternal correction is only really effective if it is done with great sensitivity and with great love. As St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Romans, all of the commandments which we are to follow are summed up in the greatest commandment which is to love our neighbour as our self. Love does no wrong to a neighbour so the approach we take in trying to bring them back into the fold must not be an act of anger or frustration but truly an act of love.
In the Gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus shares with his disciples an approach that can be taken when seeking to reconcile with someone who has hurt us or who is causing friction in the community. Perhaps he did this because there were issues within the community of disciples themselves. The first step is to communicate directly with the person and to do so with patience and love. Facebook and other public forums are not a good place to air our grievances with another person. This just throws salt on open wounds and makes problems worse. Often our frustration with others are the result of simple misunderstandings that can quickly be resolved if we just talk with one another.
If a one on one conversation does not have the effect we are looking for, then bring a third party in that can help to be a moderator. This is not about ganging up on someone but having someone who can help you listen to each other without out getting angry. There is always more than one side to a story and both sides need to be told before the whole picture can be seen clearly.
Finally, Jesus says, that if all else fails and the person who is doing wrong fails to see the error in their ways and refuses to amend their behavior then we should treat them as gentiles or tax collectors. This might sound like we should disown them but do not forget that Jesus often spent time with tax collectors and was even more compassionate with them then he was with the pharisees and scribes.
At the end of the day we desire peace and for everyone to be at the table of the Lord. If you are facing difficult relationships do not turn your back on people but ask the Holy Spirit for guidance so that we can be agents of reconciliation for the good of the community.