BY: Fr. Gerald Musa

Do you think relationships are hard work? No doubt, we need profound love and wisdom to manage all relationships well. It is easy to begin relationship with people, but not so easy to build and sustain a good relationship. To what extent are we able to sit down and have an honest conversation with people we love? An important question in relationship is, what do you do when you find out that your friend is into drinking and drugs and this habits are affecting his concentration at work, his commitment to his family and friends and his physical and spiritual well being? Prophet Ezekiel speaks of the need to take responsibility for each other – being each other’s keeper. The prophet says, if you do not warn the wicked to change his ways, you will be held accountable for his death. On the other hand, if you warn him and he refuses to change, you have exonerated yourself and he will be held accountable for his actions (33:7-9).

Thus, each one has a responsibility to express his or her concerns about the other, especially on serious matters. It is not always easy to speak candidly to someone who is on a road to self-destruction. If one must do so, it must be with a deep sense love, humility, respect, non- judgmental, and genuine concern for the person. When one sets out to offer fraternal correction he/she should expect different reactions and these include appreciation, indifference or outright rejection.

Holy Scriptures emphasise the need for fraternal correction. It is easier to flatter than to correct and this is why the book of Proverb says: “He who heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof goes astray” (10:17). The same book of Proverb adds: “Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favour rather than one who has a flattering tongue” (28:23). St. Paul says: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another” (Romans 13:8). This advise makes sense, but we know also that it is easy to love the world, but not easy to love someone who offends you. One of the real tests of love occurs during moments of conflict. The people we love most tend to offend us more. How do you approach someone who has offended you deeply with his words, remarks or actions? Do you pretend all is okay and continue to give a superficial smile when there is a cankerworm of anger eating deep into your soul? How should a community deal with difficult and dangerous people who poison peace and harmony by their attitudes and actions?

We can be so upset when we are offended and we react differently to different people and situations. Sometimes we react by keeping silent. At other times we keep complaining to people around about how we were offended. We tend to talk to everyone about the person or group that have offended us without summoning the courage to speak directly to the person concerned. What happens is that the friends of the offended begin to react towards the offender. The offender gets confused and wonders what he or she has done to this group and gradually a web of hatred begins. This silent treatment forms into a triangle of misunderstanding consisting of the offender, the offended, and sympathisers of the offended. Naturally, conflict has a ripple effect and has the capacity to spread like cancer by affecting a wide section of the community. It takes only one person to light the match of disharmony. There are examples of people who resigned their membership because they feel hurt by a member of the community, but have never disclosed why they are leaving or even spoken to the person who offended them.

Sometimes reconciliation takes extra efforts, especially when one party refuses to co-operate or makes the process extremely difficult. The Gospel of Matthew imagines such a scenario and proposes some practical steps for reconciliation. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church” (Matthew 18:15-20).

Usually, the offender is expected to step forward and express his remorse and ask for forgiveness. The Gospel recommends something different where the offended is saddled with the duty of seeking reconciliation with the offender. The person who is offended is to reach out to the offender. Why must the offended reach out to the offender? I think this is so for the following reasons:

• The offender may not be aware of the gravity of his offence or may have taken the offended for granted. • The offended makes an extra effort to reach out to the offender in order to regain his/her peace and free his/her mind from grudges and resentment.
• Talking one-on-one gives the offended the opportunity to sound a note of warning to the offender against repeating such action.
• Reaching out to the offender is meant to restore good relationship and to prevent the conflict from escalating. A stitch in time saves nine.
• The judgment and interpretation of the action of the offender may not be correct. Therefore, talking face-to-face can be helpful in understanding each other better.
• Finally, holding a grudge hurts so badly. A comedian says, “I have misunderstanding with people, but I do not nurse grudges against them because, while I am carrying the grudge, they are out dancing.”

Let us not hesitate to reach out to correct those who are on the wrong path; let us make effort to express our grudges by having honest and open conversations with those who have wounded us so badly.

————————————————————– 23rd Sunday, Year A;
Ezekiel 33:7-9;
Romans 13:8-10;
Matthew 18:15-20.

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