Loving Fraternal Correction
Sep 7, 2017
Gospel Reflection Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Ezekiel 33: 7-9; Romans 13: 8-10; Matthew 18: 15-20
Loving Fraternal Correction
Our gospel today is of tremendous practical importance both in our individual spiritual lives and communally as The Body of Christ. It deals with how we approach fraternal correction. In a liberal society such as ours, it is a question as to whether or not we should even engage in constructive criticism at all. “Live and let live.” “Who are you to tell me what to do?” we say. But at the same time, it is amazing how much we engage in observing and critiquing other people.
So what is the biblical perspective on this? We are here for our brothers and sisters. We should not take an indifferent approach. We are members of one Body. By virtue of our baptism, we have voices that are meant to be prophetic. But how should we engage in fraternal correction or constructive criticism? Our gospel is very clarifying on the subject, but we must read it slowly and pray about it. First Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Doing as Jesus says causes us to avoid the other approach of telling everyone about the offending person’s sins except them. This is difficult, but at least it has a fighting chance of success. It confirms you in that you are showing committed love to that person. But it must be you alone and nobody else.
But what if it doesn’t work? Now, Jesus says to take one or two others with you. Maybe that person will be defensive. Maybe they will even lash out at you. But if done in confidence, it will be pretty hard for that person to deny that there is a problem, even if they react defensively at first. I think of interventions for alcoholics. It is difficult to admit that there is a problem, but at least that person will know that something is amiss in the way that they are being received.
But suppose even that doesn’t produce the desired effect. Jesus says, “if he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. The Greek word for “church” was “ekklesia” which really meant a smaller group. Back then, communities met in smaller groups in house churches, so even this does not mean that it is time for some wrath of the church. Telling a pastor or staff member who is responsible is still a movement in a small way.
But what if even this does not work? Jesus says, “Treat them as you would a tax collector.” How were they treated? Jesus sought them out. He befriended them. This tells us that we should pray together for the conversion of sinners and do so with an inclusive kind of love. Whenever we want to criticize someone, we should do so out of love and only in the measure that we are willing to help them. This is a great passage to pray over. Let Jesus words truly be your guide.