Sinners sin. Since the only relationships that we have with humans are with other sinners, our relationships will have occasions when we sin against each other. How do you respond when someone hurts you? Our responses to conflict run the spectrum from "fight" to "flight." Sometimes we respond to conflict by attacking ("fight") or sometimes by avoiding it ("flight.") Unfortunately, both of these extremes often lead to damaged relationships. Our world is full of people who are unable to move past the hurt in painful relationships. Even Christians can struggle to maintain healthy and thriving relationships when we sin against each other. Perhaps our broken relationships are allowed to exist because we believe that it is only a personal matter. In the passage today, Jesus shows us that our personal relationships are never merely "personal." They affect other people and they ultimately connect to our relationship with God.
In the passage today, we see two responses to conflict. The first (v. 15-20) is a call to enter into conflict and address it. Jesus does not give us the option of avoiding or ignoring the sin that others commit against us. In the second, (v. 21-35) Jesus calls us to forgive others when they repent. It is not an option, but an essential part of the Christian life.
In the first lesson, Jesus gives us encouragement to pursue truth when someone sins against us. He does this by showing a vertical component to our relationships. When someone sins against us and they won't respond to our call for reconciliation, we are told to bring "one or two others along with us." Ultimately, the call for reconciliation involves the church, or the leaders of the church (v. 17). Our personal relationships exist in a web of interpersonal connections and it matters to everyone when we seek reconciliation.
In the second lesson, Jesus tells us a story about the importance of forgiving people when they repent. He encourages our repentance by reminding us of our vertical connection to our heavenly Father. A man who has been pardoned much refuses to excuse a much smaller amount that is owed to him. The absurdity of the story reveals the absurdity of a Christian who will not forgive. Having been forgiven a massive debt by our heavenly Father, how can we refuse to forgive a much smaller debt to other humans around us. In summary, our personal relationships matter to God and our refusal to forgive has drastic consequences in a vertical direction (with God).
Do you tend to fight or flee when faced with conflict? How can the resources of our Christian community help you to pursue reconciliation? How does the experience of God's great mercy help you to extend mercy to others?
What people in your life do you struggle to seek reconciliation with? Whom do you struggle to forgive? -MK