Readings: Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20
While we will always find ways to not get along, Christ promises to be with us. Jesus is in the middle of our relationships. In fact, he is the center and the only foundation of Christian relationship. Which means that even while we are arguing and disagreeing, even while we are hurting feelings and disappointing one another, Christ is present.
Jesus’ purpose for us is to reconcile. But that doesn’t just mean we achieve some kind of stagnant, quiet peace. Relationship in and with Christ does not mean that all people are identical and therefore able to agree and get along. The kind of peace that we have in Christ is one that embraces our similarities and our differences. It is one that respects each person’s individuality, each one’s thoughts and opinions, each one’s preferences and idiosyncrasies. It’s peace that is not lacking of friction, conflict, and differing opinions, but rather, peace that includes all that, and still stands, because Jesus is present.
Today’s gospel lesson is about conflict, about fighting. It’s not that, as Christians, we don’t fight. It’s that when we do, we do so in the presence of Christ.
The very knowledge of that is enough to make you think twice about what you say to someone... If you can remember it at the time. But in the end, it is freeing. It is freeing because it means that we can disagree. We can think about things differently from one another, but those differences do not separate us from each other, from the wider body of Christ, our families or friends. Differences do not mean we must go separate ways and cling only to like-minded people.
There is even grace from Jesus in dealing with the unrepentant sinner. He said that when the one does not listen to the church (or family, group, etc.), let that one be to you as a gentile or tax collector. Well, Jesus himself ate with tax collectors. He talked with and performed miracles for gentiles. So while Jesus admits to the need to remove the one from perhaps a voting role, they remain part of the community.
True Christian love does not avoid conflict. Conflict is part of real relationships. And real, genuine relationships is what God is all about. These kind of relationships take openness. They take confidence.
But Jesus promises us this this: the one who came bring all the world into relationship with God promises himself in all of our relationships. Where two or three are gathered, he is there in the midst of them. Even conflict within our families and churches, when done in love and respect, is a gift. God works in the openness of our relationships to bring us closer to one another, and closer to Jesus Christ. Dare to make genuine relationships; for Christ is with you.