In the early Christian communities one of the big concerns was the whole issue of ‘community’ St. Paul often wrote about keeping the bond of peace and he worked tirelessly for the unity of the community. He confronted those who would sow discord and conflict in the community.
Community unity was a concern for the community for whom Matthew wrote his gospel. He was greatly concerned about the well being of this struggling, persecuted Jewish Christian community. One challenge for this community was welcoming non-Jews into their midst. They still had to overcome their traditional conviction that they alone were special to God.
Whether it is in a family, an office situation, a class room, a workshop, in any organization there are bound to be differences of opinion, different points of view and always, personality conflicts. All this was true for Matthew’s community. Today’s gospel might be a lesson in conflict resolution but the lesson is offered because of the importance of holding the community together. The gospel is a lesson on how to deal with the elephant in the living room. The wellbeing, the health of the community, whether that community be the family, the office staff, an organization, the parish or the church itself becomes the reason for attending to the faults of one of the members. Who will bell the cat and how do we go about doing it?
Jesus lays out a strategy for the intervention. First of all make your point privately, don’t do it on the spur of the moment, while you are angry or impatient. If the issue is resolved, you move on. If the problem persists bring others with you who support your concern and talk with the person – husband, wife, son or daughter, fellow worker, whomever. If the person will not listen it is time to get the wider community involved – tell it to the church – as Matthew says. If after all this nothing changes then the person is asked to leave the family, the organization. But all these steps are taken in charity and concern for the person but mostly for the community. The message is: no one can do it ‘my way’ if that way brings conflict and pain to the community. It is ‘our way’.
Sometimes a family will go for years before confronting the alcohol abuse, or the verbal or psychological abuse of a family member. Grudges or resentments within a family more often die with those who hold them rather than come to resolution in quiet conversation. Misdeeds of friends or relatives are usually discussed with anyone but the accused. An organization or a committee allows itself to be controlled by a domineering or disruptive member. Why doesn’t somebody say something, do something? Love for the family’s well being or a groups well being should call us to do something, say something. We say something, we do something not out of anger or frustration with the offending person but out of concern for the peace and health of the family or the community.
There is a book titled “Caring Enough to Confront.” It’s good. If we find ourselves in situations where there is conflict, tension, a conflict and tension which is sapping the life out of any kind of relationship then we must speak, we must act. We are to be like the watchman in our first reading, we name the danger. We speak and in that speaking we hope for healing.
If we find ourselves in situations of conflict may we all be blessed with the gift of caring enough to confront.