Kuwait City, 7 September 2014
Homily of the Apostolic Nuncio
His Grace Archbishop Petar Rajič
In all our relationships with our fellow human beings, despite all our good intentions, we know from experience that sometimes things can go wrong and that we can begin to argue over little things, which can lead to bigger quarrels and even to harmful words being exchanged. This happens because we are oftentimes limited in our capacities to love and we tend to prefer our own selfish desires before the wishes of others.
Jesus, knowing that quarrels can and do arise, seeks to remedy these situations of disagreement within the Christian community by offering some practical advice in today’s gospel reading.
The first bit of advice is that if someone has sinned or wronged us in any way, we must consider that person a brother and approach him alone in a face to face discussion. When we consider other people our brothers or sisters, we will treat them with special care due to our affinity to them. They are not strangers or enemies, but brothers or sisters, hence our family members. In a selfish and competitive society, Christians are called to be different, to become guardians and mediators for their brothers and sisters. At the same time, we are invited to approach them personally when disagreements come about, that is, in private, not in front of others, so as to avoid a public display of our divergences. We must also not be afraid to openly speak up when we feel we have been wronged and to seek that the wrong be corrected. We can avoid so much heartache and internal suffering if we only have the courage to talk, in a truthful, gentle, yet persuasive way that will highlight the obvious wrong that is present in order to correct it, while showing respect for the individual and not humiliating the wrongdoer.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. It is indeed a wonderful thing if the wrongdoer is humble and honest enough to recognize the sin or wrong that has been done and accepts our fraternal words of advice. Many persons have been saved from disaster in their lives thanks to those men and women who have had the courage to confront them with the truth in order to help them change their wrongful ways.
Continuing onward, Jesus takes into consideration the possibility that the person may not listen to our words. 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. It can happen that the person involved does not want to speak to us, does not appreciate our sincerity nor our intentions towards making things right. In such circumstances Jesus suggests we take along a wise and prudent person, a third party, who can act as a mediator while remaining impartial to both sides. Many today unfortunately prefer to live in denial than face the truth about themselves and they therefore quickly dismiss even well-intentioned corrections from other individuals. However, when two or more people say the same thing about us, then this should make us stop and reflect upon our lives and hopefully this will help us accept the truth and the fraternal corrections we receive in order to improve and become better persons.
If even this were to fail, Jesus further states that we should then take our problem to the community, the Church, where an atmosphere of Christian fellowship should reign, where judgements should be made according to the law of love. This corresponds to what St. Paul says in the second reading, that we owe only to love one another. Paul takes love so seriously that he considers it a responsibility we owe to everyone, similar to a material debt we must pay to someone, which we always consider important.
If all else fails, we should then consider the people as tax collectors and Pharisees. This statement sounds a bit strange and it needs to be explained, for it gives the impression that Jesus is giving up on people and that we should treat irreversible, hard-headed persons as if they were outcasts. We know however, that Jesus’ love was perfect towards all and that no one was considered a hopeless case to him. When he says we should treat them as tax-collectors if they do not listen to the Church, what he really means is that we should let God’s grace work on the person and that hopefully with time, he/she will realize that they have resisted moments of grace in the past and then can make a return to God.
Matthew who wrote this Gospel passage, was himself a previous tax-collector, who upon meeting Jesus, was so moved by the encounter that he left everything behind in order to follow him. He was a despised man in the community due to his job and reputation, but through God’s grace he became a follower of Jesus and one of the four evangelists. We can never therefore give up on people when we try to correct some wrongs they might have committed against us or others. No one is a hopeless case to the Lord. God cannot let anyone remain in sin or error for long, for he desires that everyone know his truth and be saved.
We on our part participate in this plan of salvation by applying these guidelines of Jesus in our community and looking after our brothers and sisters in a loving manner. Though we may not always succeed in our efforts, we must nevertheless continue trying and pray that God’s grace act within our hearts so that we can solve our differences with the Lord’s help and maintain peace and justice within our communities. For if we seek the highest good of others simply for their benefit and not for personal gain or prestige, then we know that we have fulfilled to commandment of love towards our neighbour and God will abundantly bless our efforts with the presence of his Spirit. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.