Friendship Once Again – 23rd Sunday A
“If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone…” MATT 18,15. How are relationships repaired and renewed when damaged or broken? Matthew, writing some half a century or more after Jesus’ death, must have witnessed a few broken friendships. The advice offered in the gospel was a little gem of practicality for that time and culture. Earlier in the gospel, Matthew has Jesus advising to turn the other cheek rather than indulge in a tit for tat resolution of conflict (cf. MATT 5,38-41). The popular wisdom today of ‘don’t get mad, get even’ ignores both the gospel and best conflict management practices.
French philosopher Rene Girard points out in his book “The Scapegoat” a destructive and dysfunctional instinct that comes to the fore when tensions arise in contemporary groups: scapegoating. This unfolds when people look for someone or some group to blame. Deeply attractive, even addictive, this move goes viral and very quickly attracts a crowd. There’s a sense of togetherness and excitement born of self-righteousness as the victim is named, blamed and shamed. The mob then tries to isolate and finally eliminate the scapegoat, convinced that this will restore order in its roiled community. It doesn’t. Girard points out that Hitler “ingeniously exploited the scapegoating mechanism to bring his country together.”
Today’s gospel is not about Jesus telling us to do this or do that in order to resolve conflict. Commentators today have moved away from reading the gospels in that moralising way. It’s more about calling us to celebrate Jesus at work in our world and in our communities. It’s about recognising the moment of grace while conflict is being managed and peace restored. We are reminded that just as a civil court may need help so, too, might a faith community need spiritual assistance. We are at our best when we are in touch with the divine inside us, and conscious that we have come from God and are destined to return to God – (cf. JOHN 14, 28 and 16, 28).
Covid and the Webcam have led us to a new and different place in our faith. During the lockdown months, many folk went shopping online weekly or more for religious services. New thinking and reflection on the gospel has been going on ‘behind closed doors’ so to speak. We are in a moment of opportunity for a fresh look at the gospel and our faith. Individuals in small faith-sharing groups are bearing each other’s burdens and carrying each other along. Christ is alive and active in such gatherings. “Where two or three meet in my name, I shall be there with them” – MATT 18, 19.
Fr. QQ – (9/4/2020)