A kid goat was perched up on the top of a house, and looking down saw a Wolf passing under him. Immediately he began to revile and attack his enemy. “Murderer and thief,” he cried, “what do you want here near honest folks’ houses? How dare you make an appearance where your vile deeds are known?” “Curse away, my young friend,” said the Wolf. “It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.”
We all have our little spats and differences. Sometimes they are with family members – spouses, siblings, children – and other times with friends or neighbors. Most of the time these are easily worked out and everyone apologizes, unfortunately, many other times these disagreements and arguments sit and fester and can last for weeks, months, and years. And I’ve seen more than a few cases that were carried to the grave, where reconciliation is not possible.
Why we do this can be answered by any number of reasons: sometimes it is stubbornness or arrogance and for others it is a lack of compassion. There are some folks who live with these types of twisted relationships because they just like the drama of it all, but for the most part I think the biggest reason for not reconciling is fear. Fear of confrontation. Fear of being wrong. Fear of losing face (a.k.a. pride). Fear of any number of things.
When we are afraid the most common way to overcome that fear is to gather folks around us and so the usual tactic in unresolved disagreements is to build up a significant base of supporters on “your side.” You can go and talk to them about the person your arguing with – your enemy – and they will agree with you and back you up in the dispute. “That’s right man, he’s such a loser.” “She’s got no class.” And so on.” From there it falls into more personal attacks, “She’s got no class and don’t you think she’s getting fat?” To one degree or another, we are all guilty of such actions, because just like the goat and the wolf, it is very easy to be brave from a distance, but it takes true courage to meet face-to-face.
Hussein bin Talal was the King of Jordan, a very respected man and the King who first made peace with Israel in 1994. In the early 1980’s an officer in the army became discontent with the King and one night the king was informed by his security police that a group of seventy-five of his Jordanian officers, including the discontented one, were at that very moment meeting in a nearby barracks plotting a military overthrow of the kingdom. The security officers requested permission to surround the barracks and arrest the plotters. After a somber pause the king refused and said, “Bring me a small helicopter.” The helicopter was brought. The king climbed in with the pilot and himself flew to the barracks and landed on its flat roof. The king told the pilot, “If you hear gun shots, fly away at once without me.”
Unarmed, the king walked down two flights of stairs and suddenly appeared in the room where the plotters were meeting and quietly said to them, “Gentlemen, it has come to my attention that you are meeting here tonight to finalize your plans to overthrow the government, take over the country, and install a military dictator. If you do this, the army will break apart and the country will be plunged into civil war. Tens of thousand of innocent people will die. There is no need for this. Here I am! Kill me and proceed, that way only one man will die tonight.”
After a moment of stunned silence, it is reported, the rebels as one rushed forward to kiss the king’s hands and feet and pledged their loyalty to him for life.
Yes, it takes a great deal of courage to meet face-to-face with those we are in disagreement with, but in most cases the nervousness and fear over that encounter are far outweighed by the results of the meeting. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus provides us with some very practical steps to take in the event of a disagreement. He begins, “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.”
In other words, don’t sit and stew over it. Don’t let it fester. As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Don’t go out and gather up your supporters, instead, go to the person and in a manner becoming of a Christian man or woman, speak to them. This may not always work in your dealings with world, because note that Jesus is being very specific with who he is speaking to, “If another member of the church sins against you,” respond in this way. If you speak to them as one member of the church should speak to another member of the church, then it is expected that they would respond to you in a similar manner, which means that if you are the one who has done the offending, you must have the courage to admit you have done wrong.
Jesus goes on to provide other options if the disagreement cannot be overcome. He says, “If you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” When we are angry, if we are being uncharitable, this may be our ultimate goal – “Tell everybody! See, I was right!” But when it gets to this point, there are no “winners.” Only broken relationships and a divided body. The whole point of the exercise is not to have winners and losers, but to have reconciliation. We seek to respond to each other as God in the person of Jesus responded to us.
A couple married for 15 years began having more than the usual disagreements. They wanted to make their marriage work and agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned to drop a note into a “Fault” box. The notes would provide a place to let the other know about daily irritations. The wife was diligent in her efforts and approach: “leaving the jelly top off the jar,” “wet towels on the shower floor,” “dirty socks not in hamper,” on and on until the end of the month. After dinner, at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. They were all the same, the message on each slip was, “I love you!”
The book of Revelation tells us that, day and night, Satan stands before the throne of God accusing us of all our faults, but Jesus’ actions upon the cross counters each one of those accusations with the ultimate, “I love you.”
Instead of getting all twisted up and angry with someone, what would it take for you to respond to them with that same, “I love you.” I am not so naive as to think it will resolve all the problems we encounter, but it is a place to begin.