Being a mother of daughters, and daughters who have gone to an all-girl high school, I am particularly sensitive to gossip. In my opinion, it is a particularly female sin. We’ve all seen it, done it, or been victim of it: catty females talking about someone behind her back and turning a smile to her face.
On Saturday, I attended the funeral of my friend’s mom. Eileen was one of the sweetest women I ever knew! Her gentle way, her tender voice, and her kind manner accompanied her always. The priest who celebrated the funeral mass, a family friend, said something that summed up one of her greatest virtues: “I don’t think I ever heard her say something disparaging about anyone.” Knowing her, I found that easy to believe. Then I thought to myself, “I bet that’s something that would never be said at my funeral.” Ouch!
I thought about how easy it is to fall into judgment and to draw untrue conclusions about others’ motivations and intentions, and in our emotion, how easy it is to pass those thoughts along to others. At the root of this behaviour is a failure to love as we should.
In this past Sunday’s gospel, Jesus challenges us with His remedy.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.
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.’
If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church.
If he refuses to listen even to the church,
then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
Amen, I say to you,
whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt 18:15-18)
Notice the first thing Jesus says to do if you have an issue with someone: “…go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Notice he doesn’t say, “Go and kvetch about the issues with everyone but the person involved.” Au contraire! He says to go directly to the person and work it out face to face, just the two of you.
For many of us, this is really hard – most often because we lack the courage it takes to be honest and the love it takes to not be afraid – so we avoid it. We want it resolved, but we are not up to the task of working through to the other side. Jesus expects more of us.
We see, too, that Jesus is realistic about what might happen as a result: “If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. 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.'” Sometimes working things out between two people doesn’t go so well. It is only then that we ask others to help, and only to establish the facts. Notice that bringing in a third person is not to complain about the other person, but to work towards a resolution. Jesus expects more of us.
Again, Jesus is realistic. He knows human nature. Sometimes we need something bigger than ourselves to help settle a dispute. He advises us to “bring it to the church,” those who can judge wisely. Yet, even then, an agreeable conclusion is not guaranteed, so Jesus says, “If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” And exactly how is that we treat a “gentile or tax collector”? With kindness and charity. Jesus expects more of us.
Finally, Jesus gives us a solemn reminder, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven,” echoing the closing part of the Lord’s prayer, “…forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” He assures us of the accountability of our words and action. We are to love and forgive as he does. Jesus expects more of us.
In our heart of hearts, we know this is all true. Pulling it apart and hearing it convicts us of its truth. Only supernatural grace can help us to live it. It is a message we must embrace, one we must model to those around us, and one we must teach to our children. Jesus expects that of us.
So today and in the days ahead, work and pray to put this teaching of Jesus into practice. If you’ve been wronged, shun gossip. Pray before you go down the road of blame and judgment. Invoke the power of the Holy Spirit to guard your heart and guide your mind. Go directly to the other person involved to work it out “speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15). Bring others in only if necessary, and if you need someone to complain to or if you need healing, talk to Jesus. He, the giver of all good things, will give you exactly what you need when you need it.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. (Col 3:12-15)
Come Holy Spirit! Anne