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Don’t just forgive!

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17 September 2008 No Comment


Matthew 18 two Sundays ago has made me think what reconciliation might mean – in practical terms:

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (New Revised Standard Version)

Jesus seems to recommend a pretty straightforward ‘routine’ to go through when things go wrong between two people: “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”

For me, the call in this verse is to first of all recognise that someone has wronged me (or ‘sinned against me’, but I like ‘wronged’ better since it has a stronger implication of injustice). I am easy at ‘forgiving’ or explaining away how other people treat me. The way forward that I have found in this verse is that it is not good for them to wrong me, it is not something that should be be forgiven without saying a word, in the supposedly ‘good Christian way’. No, they need to know that they have crossed the line with me, my very subjective line, and they need to know in person and from me, one on one. It’s good for them and it’s good for me. (The other option, that I find myself using much more often, is becoming upset and taking it out on them behind their back.)

And when that fails, then I can turn to the community for mediation (the questions here are: which community?), and failing that, finally acknowledge that there are irreconcilable differences and just treat them with compassion and understanding for their problem with me (“Let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” – and we all know how Jesus treated those).

After taking these steps, and especially the very first one, forgiving can then take place on the deeper level, that of a personal honesty about what has happened to me, personally, in relation to you, personally. I don’t have to pretend that ‘all’s well’, that there are no problems and that I am this nice, forgiving person. Either things are well, or they are not, but I will have contributed my best, my own, to the emering reconciled relationship between two people with a problem.

On a larger scale, I find it much easier to do that: confronting injustice, speaking out for other people, comes more naturally to me than doing the same for myself. It is there that I feel I can be ‘prophetic’ and I am annoyed that we as a Church are not more prophetic in addressing injustices. But I also know that being prophetic, confronting injustices in my own environment is a first step and the one that lays a foundation of basic integrity that I need to ‘fight the good fight’ for other people, those who maybe cannot or dare not speak for themselves.

Photo: “Reconciliation Room” by Edith OSB from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)

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