· Vatican City ·

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time: 10 September

When a brother hurts us…

 When a brother hurts us…  ING-036
08 September 2023

This week’s readings suggest some practical wisdom for family and community life. In the first reading, the Lord admonishes his people through Ezekiel, if “you do not speak out to dissuade the wicked from his way, […] I will hold you responsible for his death.” In the second reading, Paul encourages the Romans, “owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Finally, Jesus reminds his disciples, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault.”

Which family or community is without conflicts or tensions? Recall the last time that we felt frustrated, angry or sad. Chances are high that the cause of these strong emotions was a difficult exchange with someone in the family. After all, we spend most of our time around family members. If a family member has hurt us, what should we do?

Jesus’ response to this question exposes our weak tendencies. When a brother sins against us, our natural tendency is retaliation, but revenge is obviously not permissible, for Jesus said, “if a person strikes you on one cheek, offer the other” (Lk 6:29). Another inclination is to ignore the conflict, hoping that it would just go away. Even when we muster the courage to confront the conflict, we don’t go directly to the person, but often go to another friend and slander the offender. Both of these options are rejected when Jesus tells us to “go and tell his fault between you and him alone.” What is Jesus’ alternative response?

Augustine sees the prudence and keen sense of justice in Jesus when he comments on this passage: “Those faults are to be revoked before all, that are committed before all; these which are done in private, are to be rebuked in private.” There is a need for prudence, sensitivity and discernment because conflicts cause suffering in the heart of both persons. John Chrysostom said, “It is made plain that enmities are a loss to both sides; for he said not, he has gained himself, but, you have gained him; which shows that both of you had suffered loss by your disagreement.” The focus is not so much finding justice for the wrong, but searching for healing of the relationship.

Jesus acknowledges that sometimes a person’s heart is so hardened that even the presence of the church does not win the brother over. In this case, we are to “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” This does not mean a total disregard or neglect of his salvation, because among Jesus’ great converts were Matthew the tax collector and the Canaanite mother.

Jesus ends the passage encouraging us to prayer, “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.” Why prayer? Because certain demons that rupture our relationships “can only come out through prayer” (Mk 9:29). Brokenness in our most cherished relationships is not only a fact of life, but sometimes a great mystery. Respond prudently and delicately. When human efforts seem to fail, pull out your trump card and go directly to Jesus: pray and have faith.

*  Abbot of St. Martin Abbey Lacey, Washington

By Fr Marion Nguyen, osb *