Twenty-Third Sunday  In Ordinary Time, Year A
September 6, 2020 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community, Palm Springs, CA
Deacon Sharon Kay Talley
Ezekiel 33:7-9 | Psalm 95:1-2;6-9
Romans 13:8-10 | Matthew 18:15-20

+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The famous outburst from King Henry II, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”  –referring to Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1170, was one of the most googled phrases during the recent investigation of the Trump administration and its possible links with Russia.

Today’s readings remind us all that we are called by God to be the speakers of inconvenient truths, or “meddlesome priests” who seek transparency in all aspects of our lives:  the church, government, business, and personal matters.

In today’s first reading from Ezekiel, he is called to be the watchman for the House of Israel: to watch for danger and sound an alarm when it appeared.  Ezekiel lived during one of the most tumultuous times in Israel: the Jewish monarchy was in decline and the nation was broken.  The ruling elite had no concern for anyone except themselves and manipulated the political unrest to their advantage.  But Ezekiel, as the commissioned “meddlesome prophet” challenged the powers that be.

Ezekiel revealed the inconvenient truths and challenged the system in order to pursue God’s plan for humanity: to be the speaker of inconvenient truths.

In our second reading from Romans, Paul advises us not to get into debt, except for the debt of mutual love.  By this, Paul means the love that thinks and cares about the health and welfare of another.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew enacts Ezekiel’s warning and expands it to have the responsibility fall on the entire community, not just one person.  Since in Jesus’ time, people lived in small, closely-knit communities, not metroplexes like we do today, if a brother or sister went astray, it became the duty of the entire community to restore him/her.  In early Christian times, it was crucial to resolve internal disputes in order to have harmony for all.

Like it or not, conflict is part of the life of churches.  The following are the most frequent types of conflict:

–conflict caused by an individual:  Many clergy have encountered people who like to engage is disruptive or destructive behavior.

–conflicts regarding authority and responsibility:  Many churches experience conflicts about power and authority.  Clear processes and policies can help leaders deal with such issues.

–theological conflicts:  Often there are different understandings of the Church, sacraments, scripture, type of worship, music, and discipleship which can lead to conflict.

–conflicts caused by change:  As churches change over time due to new locations, new clergy, or management, conflict is a natural result.  But these conflicts present opportunities to grow and learn.

Today, Jesus gives us the principles of reconciliation.  Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship.  So the question is, “How do we resolve them amicably?”  Jesus puts “dialogue” at the center of resolution: the ability to talk about the issues, the ability to emphasize, or see things from the other perspective.

So, first, we must discuss the issue face to face.  Secondly, we must seek the mediation of a neutral party and finally, seek the mediation of our community or family.

Unfortunately, today we generally will neglect the first basic steps and go straight to “treat him/her like a tax collector.”

We need to keep in mind that dialogue fosters mutual respect and we must make every effort to reconcile with others through dialogue.  It is important for the offending party and the offended party to listen to one another.  It rules out shouting, and judgmental words, and behavior, it rules out the attitude of degrading the other person or “putting them in their place”.  It involves humility and being able to take responsibility for one’s actions.

Jesus makes it very clear today that healing relationships in the Christian community is the responsibility of all.

Remember when two weeks ago Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom for accepting and loosing? Today, Jesus offers the keys to the entire community.  Healing offenses, calling for each other to be accountable for their behavior is a task we all need to partake.  We are, as Paul says, members of One Body.  The Gospel of Matthew says we are members of One Church.  When the members of the community come together to pray for another member who has gone astray, Jesus is there beside them.

Jesus assures us that He is present as we work together to heal the offenses between us.

The United States has more lawyers per capita than any other country in the world:  approximately one for every 300 people.  As a result, the United States leads the world in lawsuits.  Remember the case of Stella Liebeck?  In 1992 she sued McDonald’s for spilling coffee into her lap at a drive-thru and was awarded $2.9 million dollars by a jury in New Mexico.  Ever since then, McDonald’s has to warn people that their coffee is hot.

Before seeking an attorney to resolve your conflict, maybe we should ask ourselves if there is a better way to resolve it.

Jesus’ advice about conflict resolution can be stated in four simple steps:

  1. Quickly—you need to get rid of it ASAP to avoid having anger and resentment
  2. Face to Face—this allows emotion into the communication and makes it easier to understand the other person
  3. One on One—you must talk with the person involved in the conflict before you talk to anyone else (except a licensed professional). How many of you have talked about someone before you talked to that someone?  Triangulation is a manipulation tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another person, instead, using a third person to relay communication to the second, thus forming a triangle.  Triangulation may manifest itself as a manipulative device to engineer rivalry between two people, commonly known as “divide and conquer” or pitting one person against another.  In the context of narcissism, triangulation occurs when the narcissist attempts to control the communication between two separate people or groups of people.  This provides the narcissist with a feeling of importance.  In such situations, it is essential to seek the help of a licensed professional.
  4. Get help—this means a neutral party such as a mutual friend or licensed professional.

We all have conflicts in our lives and if we take these steps given to us by Jesus, our conflicts can be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.