Communities and conflict: it seems that the two go together. Today’s readings have a lot to do with conflict resolution, and that seems to be something very useful for today’s age. Conflicts are all around us. Conflict exist within our countries borders. It manifests itself as political conflict, ideological conflict, ethnic, class, religious, generational, sociological, and the list goes on. Along with conflicts within a country, there are also those conflicts that are so prominent across nations. The mid-east conflict, Arab-Israeli, Jewish- Islamic, Jewish-Christian, Islamic-Christian. There are the divides between North and South America, Eastern Europe and America, Eastern and Western Europe. No matter how large or small conflicts exist between two groups. How are those conflicts resolved? That is an important question that Matthew’s gospel addresses. Jesus, in His first example asks that to parties who are in disagreement simply reconcile their difference. He does this though by introducing one important word, Sin. In his argument, one who has another sin against them, should get that brother to see their fault and correct it. By introducing that word, Sin, one brother is right and the other is wrong. That conflict resolution involves correcting a fault, it does not involve compromising a truth. How difficult then is it for two brothers in conflict to agree to a truth? Mathew in his gospel, is after all addressing his community. He is trying to get them to reconcile their differences. He is though trying to get them to reach not a compromise, but the truth. In that gospel writers’ time there was conflict. Theirs was a Jewish Christian community, with a gentle component, and also an ongoing dialogue with the Pharisees. Conflict abounded, but the resolution was not compromise, but instead a pursuit of truth. Within Jesus message to the brother that sins against another, are those same words that Jesus rebuked Peter with; “Get behind me Satan!” Both are not follow their own path, but they are to pick up their cross and follow Christ. Christ is after all that truth. Brothers in Christ should first and foremost seek His way, His truth, and His light.
In Jesus first argument if two brothers could reconcile to a truth all was well. His second argument though gives guidance when reconciliation does not take place. Jesus has the brothers then present their arguments to witnesses, which is the Jewish law for dealing with disagreements. It is so that the facts are adequately stated, so that Justice might be served. The resolution of that conflict must be Just, it is not taken lightly or dismissed frivolously. If a sin is committed, it must be dealt with properly and not glossed over. In the Jewish community any accusation against another was not taken lightly, to accuse or punish one unjustly is an offense against God. In thinking about so many of today’s” brothers sins against their brothers,” I wonder might it be with good reason that the conflicts are not resolved? Sometimes the severity of the conflict hints at the difficulty in discerning the truth. Sadly though, how many times are conflicts not presented to witnesses? How many times is dialogue absent? Conflicts are not always easy to resolve, but what is the better resolution compromise or truth? I thinking of this gospel on a geo political scale, I wonder how many times these two steps are taken “when one brother sins against another?” I wonder what the outcome if government leaders tried to discern a truth rather than win a battle? How much different if they tried to understand rather than defeat? How much different if they both committed to truth rather than position? Conflict resolution is not easy, and discernment is not easy, but what about the strength of a community built on truth? A community built on truth is in ideal the Holy Catholic Church.
If an issue between brothers cannot be resolved through dialogue, or through the intervention of witnesses: next comes the Church. The Church is the body of Christ: it is that way, that truth, and that light. Within its borders hopefully resides the knowledge to aid in any truthful discernment. It is a body of knowledge built through history. Jesus in Matthews’s gospel ask the Christian brothers to seek a resolution there. There either a solution resides, or one can be formulated to be added to that body of knowledge that is Christ’s church. Again “If your brother sins against you,” the pursuit is the truth. So much importance is placed on the importance of seeking truth. In thinking of the truth of the Catholic Church, look at the effort that has been put into that discernment. It is the history of the Church councils, its creed, its catechism, its literature, its influence on history; all of echo those words to Peter, “Get behind me Satin”; its history is the ongoing resolution of one brother sinning against another.
Finally if one brother’s sin against another is not resolved, the one who is sinless is to treat the other as a tax collector or pagan. The author of the gospel, Mathew, was a tax collector. Jesus words to him? Follow me. He did not come for the righteous but for the sinner. Even to them he cries out I am the way, the truth, and the light. Follow me. Repent and receive the good news. His is not a compromise to Satin, or a surrender to sin.