A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew: 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.”
Yesterday’s gospel goes further than this, but I want to stop here. This one little passages — five sentences — provides the solution to so many of the dramas and conflicts in the world today. Don’t believe in simple solutions? Maybe you haven’t given them a try.
The entire modus operandi of this passage is respect. Simple, common respect. You value the person’s privacy and reputation enough to pull him aside and say one-on-one to him, “Hey, you hurt me” or “Hey, you weren’t right in what you said earlier.” Instead of immediately telling everyone else or confronting the person in front of a large group so as to create humiliation, you’re treating him the way you’d like to be treated — with respect. This should send a clear message to the person.
But suppose he doesn’t listen to you, as will (sadly) most likely be the case. Well then, that’s when you start asking for help. Get just a couple people — people who are involved in the problem and who you can trust to keep level heads instead of flying off the handle if the person gets upset with them. Then, have another private conversation/intervention. Again, this shows respect for the person who hurt you — the golden rule isn’t hard to remember, y’all.
Suppose even this isn’t enough. In the Gospel passage, it says to refer to the church. Sadly, in our case, many people won’t listen to the idea of a God at all, let alone any authority from an organized church. But perhaps there’s still some kind of higher authority in that person’s life, whether it’s a parent, a boss, a principle, an RA, or whomever. Maybe it’s the police, who knows. Go to this person, whoever it might be. Give the case over to that individual — notice how you’re still not making a public humiliation out of it. Even when the case goes to someone outside the situation, you’re still keeping it more or less private.
And some people still won’t listen. So what does Jesus say to do next? “Treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” What’s your immediate thought about that? Tax collectors and Gentiles — the ‘bad guys’ of the bible. They were always the corrupt ones, the pagans, the dogs, and the unclean. So treating your offender like a Gentile or a tax collector surely must mean to cast him out of your life and shun him for his action, right? Wrong. Look at what Jesus did to these people: he loved them, ate with them, cured their diseases, led them to conversion. . . but not once did he commend them for their ways. He only commended them once they had faith in him and repented.
So what does that mean for us? You guessed it: WWJD. It sounds so cliche and Protestant, but it really is the way to go. If that person who hurt you refuses after all your polite attempts to change or apologize and make amends, then your last resort would be to do what Jesus did: love the person as a child of God, respect him for who he is, but never commend him for his work. This may take the form of talking or sharing less of your personal self with the other person (e.g. a former best friend would become simply an acquaintance). It might hurt, the other person might view it as an injustice, but in reality, all you’re doing is treating that person as a child of God — one who has broken your trust, but a child of God nonetheless.
Respect. Privacy. The Golden Rule. It means giving up gossip. It means giving up drama. It means giving up sleepless nights worrying about your reputation with another or angrily venting to whoever will listen. It means giving up a toxic outlook on life.
It’s strange. To many people, it’s unheard of. And there will be many times it doesn’t seem to make sense because our emotions are our own worst enemies many times.
It’ll be hard, but I dare you to try it out.