On first impressions, the Gospel for this week seems oddly antagonistic and confrontational – it seems to suggest how we should stand up, perhaps challenge someone from the church, who has wronged us. It even lists methodologically how we should go about it along with a follow-up should the exchanges prove unsuccessful; attempt the one-on-one first, followed by bringing along a friend or two to bear witness. If the guilty party remains recalcitrant, we are to tell it to the whole church and last, if they remain adamant, we are to treat them as a gentile (what does this even mean) or the hated tax collector? It seems like rather than containing the problem, we seem to be involving more and more people, to the extent that we have to publicly shame the person who did us wrong by telling everyone?
Did Jesus not tell us that if someone strikes us on the right cheek, we are to offer the other cheek as well? (Luke 6:29) How then should we reconcile this with the Gospel reading this week; they seem as distinct as opposing ends of the spectrum.
Surely, by standing up to those who have maligned us, we have answered the call to warn the wicked of the error of their ways. The message here is resolute and firm; if we do not inform them and they perish, the fault is ours. However, if we do inform them yet they choose not to repent, they will still perish, but we will not be at fault. We need only seek solace in God; he will see to their punishment (Roman 12:19).
Yet, in the same letter to the Romans, we see Paul expounding on this, addressing an early church, elaborating and sharing with the early Christians how they should live and treat one another, wherein we are called to love one another and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
So the first challenge in the gospel this week, is to reframe what we first perceived; not to read it literally as an outright confrontation but rather as an act of love – an invitation to reach out to a brother or sister, in our community who has sinned and caused us hurt and to bring them back into peace with God.
Yet, we can only do so, when we do not make it about us.
This is extremely difficult; to remove and detach ourselves from the act, as often, it is the only thing we can see, and our emotions clouds our minds – how the other person has hurt us. We are wounded and I am all that matters; our ego takes over like a huge monster.
We are therefore challenged further, to overcome this and see a bigger picture. Like the gentile who, by virtue of their non-belief, and the tax collector – these individuals are often excluded or shunned the community. Similarly, our brother or sister from our community, needs us to forget ourselves and reach out to them, even though we are hurting ourselves. If we are unable to resolve it as individuals then we need to persist and reach out with the community and as a community, not with scorn or hated but instead with love to those who have strayed away.
If we make it only about us, we will never be able to see past the hurt they have caused us, and it will forever remain as nothing but a mere confrontation.
Edwin Tung and Julia Tan