And the conversation begins: I have something to tell you! Who knows exactly what is coming, but it might well be interesting and fun?
Or the conversation begins, we have to talk…You know it is not going to be about the weather, hockey playoffs, or things fun and interesting. We have to talk.
If we could just put the whole moment on pause, and have an elongated gap of time, a timeout, to consider what is about to unfold – what would we think? Feel? Suspect? Fear? We might or might not know exactly what is coming, but we can probably feel the anxiety rise, the tension build, defenses being erected, and whatever are our normal reactions to some level of threat.
But remember we have this suspended moment of time to consider and reconsider. The person across from us is a friend, a good person, a Christian – and this week’s gospel is about how to keep the community as one, to make sure the sheep don’t wander off and lose their way. Maybe we are lost or at the beginning of being lost. Don’t we want someone to reach out a saving hand to us?
Yeah, but don they really have to say anything – can’t they just mind their own busines, give us a pass, let it go, …..just say nothing. D. Bonheoffer (Life Together) wrote: “Nothing could be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to sin. Nothing could be more compassionate than the rebuke that calls a sister or brother from the path of sin.” Silence is not an option for one who professes to live out our Christian, communal faith.
What stops us from saying something? “It’s just not done.” “It’s a family matter?” Advice from the Miss Manner’s column? Just not what we do? There are all kinds of reasons, accepted reasons, but are they good reasons? Are they scriptural reasons? Are they Christian reasons?
We need to talk…
And I am not even talking about sin yet! If the ordinary and everyday things leave us flummoxed, what about the issues writ large? What if we see someone – one of our faith community – sinning in a way that is poor Christian witness, causes scandal or even harm to themselves, others or the community? What causes us to so often be silent?
Maybe we will say to ourselves “I’ll pray for them.” And that is good – but is it adequate in the light of our gospel? Maybe it assuages our sense of responsibility. Maybe we think to ourselves, “I’ll talk to them later.” Sadly, “later” never comes. In the end, we avoid the face-to-face encounter with our sister or brother in Christ.
What if we raise the stakes? And the sin is “against us.” Some among us are so graced that they bypass the anger and the strong emotions and say to themselves or even aloud, “I’ll pray for them.” Most of us will begin to speak – (a) in anger to the person or (b) more likely to someone else about the person and what they have done to us. Sometimes (c) right then and there our anger, hurt or humiliation comes out in words spoken to the person – generally not words the words of love that St. Paul tells us we owe to the other. Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; … “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.
When every societal norm, every instinct tells us to avoid the tough face-to-face encounter, the Gospel gives us the guideline to follow: (a) go to the person one-on-one and tell them. If that does not work (b) go back with two or three others. If necessary, take the person to the Church – the one that holds the moral and teaching authority, the one that looses and binds.
Let’s just consider step #1 – go to the person. Take the time to pray. Allow the Spirit to form and shape your words. Words that allows you to grit your teeth and act out of love, even if that love will only follow in its own good time. Let God lead you in your choice of the words you plan on saying to the person. Words that express compassion even as you have that tough conversation. Words that allow the Divine love and mercy to flow through us.
Words that are true, necessary, and helpful.
Truth has its limits. If I speak the truth “but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.” Love that is patient; love that is kind. Love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (cf. 1 Cor 13)
The Love that in prayer figures out how to make the words necessary and helpful.
No one looks forward to such conversations. No one wants to speak the words or hear the words. But this is what we owe to that person, to God and to ourselves. Words that are personal. Words that are communal, Words spoken face-to-face. Words spoken in love. Where there is love, then you have gathered in the name of Jesus. Invite Jesus into the tough conversations.
Nothing could be more cruel than the tenderness that leaves another to sin. Nothing could be more compassionate than the conversation that calls a sister or brother from the path of sin to a moment of love.