Wednesday, August 16, 2006

19th Wednesday in Ordinary Time (II)
Christian Conflict Resolution

Reading: Ezekiel 9:1-7; 10:18-22; Psalm 113:1-2, 3-4, 5-6; Matthew 18:15-20

Disagreement and conflict are inevitable parts of human life at all levels – inter-personal, communal, national, international… Even our church, the Body of Christ, if it is to live up to its claim to being catholic (universal), needs continually to negotiate the differences that exist between its various members and parts. How is this negotiation to take place? Our readings invite reflection on this question, even as they present us with some characteristics of Christian conflict resolution.

An important part of this process is the role to be played by official communal authority. In the gospel, Jesus says, report it to the community. Because we are part of a community, we all live under authority, whether we actually have direct recourse to it or not. And the exercise of this earthly authority has God’s mandate. Whatever you bind on earth shall be considered bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be considered loosed in heaven.

But official authority is neither the first nor the last word on the matter. In the gospel, Jesus asks that the parties first speak to one another. If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves. A key characteristic of Christian conflict resolution is dialogue. Indeed, is not the recourse to authority itself a fraternal conversation carried out at another level? And, quite strikingly, even the result of this fraternal conversation receives the divine mandate. If two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all, it will be granted to you by my Father in heaven.

However, we will be mistaken to think that every exercise of authority, or every fraternal conversation, necessarily receives the divine mandate. We notice how in the first reading, for example, not even the sanctuary of the Temple is spared from God’s judgment. Something else is essential. Authority must be exercised and fraternal conversation must be carried out under a very specific sign, the same sign that is marked on the foreheads of those who are saved in the first reading, the sign of the cross. It is when conflicts are resolved in the same spirit with which Christ the Lord emptied himself, even unto death, that we have the assurance that whatever is bound by us on earth is also indeed bound in heaven. For this is Christ’s promise: where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them.

As we go about negotiating the inevitable conflicts that come our way, we might do well to ask ourselves: in whose name are we meeting?

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