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.
Again, amen, I say to you,
if two of you agree on earth
about anything for which they are to pray,
it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.
For where two or three are gathered together in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.”
As Christians, are we really ready to take this Gospel passage to heart? Some of us, perhaps many of us (including many who would not or cannot admit it to themselves) think we are. It is far too easy to imagine ourselves as the stern but loving elder of the Church, going to reprove the wayward member of the congregation. We can see ourselves, speaking more in love than in anger, gently urging the sinner to be reconciled with us and with the Church. We are gracious, even magnanimous in our forgiveness, but we are firm: the sinner must repent. When our loving entreaties fail, we bring along our confreres, equally righteous, but equally sorrowful for the sinner we are confronting. And, should all efforts at reconciliation fail, we can imagine ourselves strong enough to remove the sinner from our midst, treating him “as a Gentile or a tax collector”. We would console ourselves with the belief that it was in the best interest of the Church and the sinner alike: far better to be separated from the Church on earth with the hope of repentance than to be separated from God by the “great chasm” that separated Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:25).
But in reality the passage from small sins to great ones is easier than we would care to admit. We may indeed be in need of fraternal correction. So try to imagine yourself in this situation. What would you want: a chance to explain yourself? understanding? forbearance? forgiveness, even seventy times seven fold (Mt 18:22)? Always hold that image, that feeling firmly in mind. See yourself not standing in judgment, but as one judged and found guilty. If we see ourselves in need of mercy, then we will find it easier to be merciful. As Jesus said,
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38).
Be ready to admonish the sinner, but be equally ready to accept correction. Admit to yourself that you will need to be forgiven at least as often as you are called upon to forgive. And both in giving and receiving, love one another, for “love is the fulfillment of the law.”