23rd Sun [A] 1993

Fr. Charles Irvin

Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:8-10; Matthew 18:15-20

Harboring wounds and nursing resentments are like cancers that plague us all and eat up our energies. Harboring them is like closing a wound and leaving all of the infection inside. And the longer our resentments fester within us the more energy is sapped away from our movement ahead to better lives and happier relationships.

We can’t get along with everyone all of the time. Furthermore, if we hold to certain principles and stand up for certain things we’re going to offend some people. And they will make it their business not to get along with us.

Jesus had to deal with this part of life. He was opposed, even hated. And anyone who lives the values and principles of Jesus Christ will likely not get along with some people. There’ll be conflict. Perhaps there should be conflict in our lives. As a priest I get worried if I am found too acceptable. After all, God’s prophets weren’t’ like all that much. In fact most of them were put to death because their message was so unpopular.

Now it is to be expected that we’ll not get along with our enemies. But the fact of the matter is that many times we find ourselves in conflict with those whom we want to love us. Husbands and wives can love each other dearly and still live in conflict. The best of friends can find themselves living in serious conflict and disagreement with each other. And Jesus warned his disciples, and us with them, to expect that to be the case.

Jesus is speaking as a realist in today’s gospel reading. He asked everyone to love as He has loved, knowing that disputes would arise, feelings would be hurt, and resentments would eat at them like cancers. And He offers them, and us with them, a way to deal with conflict and resentments.

     1 – The offended party should take the initiative.

            God took the initiative. The biblical history of our salvation is one wherein God is always taking the initiative to bring about reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. Jesus points it out. “If your brother should commit some wrong against you, go and point out his fault.”

What do WE do? Well, we gossip behind their back, we go to friends and whine and complain. We throw up walls of protection. We put the offending party into the silence of a deep freezer. We slink into the cave of our souls and there nurse and build up our resentments and hurt feelings. We claim victim hood and prepare our public expose of our victim hood at the hands of this bestial perpetrator.


     2 - If the two of you can’t work it out,

             then it’s time to take the matter to a trusted third party. Failure to do so only heaps new layers of resentment, hurt, and victim hood on the two parties. When you talk the matter out with a trusted third party the very act of voicing your feelings can have a tremendously therapeutic effect. It can also begin the process of objectifying the matter, bringing it up out of the swamp of subjectivity. Hurt feelings and age-old resentments distort our vision and make it impossible to see things as they really were or are. And then PRIDE
does its evil work.
But it takes humility to do so, the sort of humility God has in taking the initiative to come to us and invite us to work with Him in overcoming our estrangement from Him. Pride often sabotages the healing process at this point. Countless numbers of spouses have been in my office alone, the other party absent because they claim they can solve the problem (if they indeed admit that there IS a problem!), and solve the problem themselves. A priest? What do we need a priest for? HE can’t help us. What does HE know about marriage?

     3 – Finally there’s the matter of attitude.

            In the great majority of instances parties end up wanting to excommunicate the other, to throw them out of the inner circle. “It’s my way or the highway!” is their attitude. Many times good Christians will quote the Gospel passage we just read thinking that Jesus was advising excommunication in intractable cases. Such an interpretation points out cases where people of use Sacred Scripture without having first studies Sacred Scripture and taken it into their hearts. Yes, Jesus used the phrase “treat him has you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”

The question that you need to answer is: How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors?

And how to you approach those with whom you live in conflict? The answer touches on the core of what it means to live as a Christian, what it means to live as Jesus lived.

The preeminent ministry of Jesus Christ, the mission given Him by God the Father, was the ministry of reconciliation. To be a Christian is to live in that ministry of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing. And certainly, given the times in which we live, that way of life is desperately needed, both in our personal lives, in our national life, and globally. If you want to know what God’s will is for you, it all begins with that. The ministry of reconciliation is clearly and centrally God’s will for you and for me. It’s Christ’s mission, and it is yours in His, O Christian.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”