23 Sunday A: Prayer and Reconciliation


 Gospel Text: Matthew 18:15-20
J and disciples
Michel DeVerteuil
General Comments
This passage is very different from those of the two previous Sundays. They were dramatic stories, marked by deep emotions and with deep implications for the characters involved. This is a little gem of a passage but with little drama, a very practical, common-sense teaching on that most common and most prosaic of community problems – conflict. It is deep wisdom teaching which continues to be valid for our time. Management has become a science today, and Jesus’ teaching stands up well as a model of how to “manage” conflict in any situation.

As usual with lectio divina, we do not moralise. The conclusion of our meditation is not “Jesus tells us to do this,” but, “let us celebrate Jesus at work in the world.” We recognise moments of grace when we ourselves lived this teaching, and celebrate the great people who by word and example taught us to live it.
The teaching gives norms for dealing with local community conflicts – in families, neighborhoods, church groups and workplaces – but also for the great conflicts of our time between races and ethnic groups, religions, nations, different social classes.
The passage is in two sections and we should try to see the link between them:
– verses 15 to 17 are the teaching;
– verses 18 to 20 give a spiritual foundation to the teaching.
It is therefore a good example of biblical teaching – practical moral teaching based on spirituality. Note that both aspects are valid for all people, believers or not.
jesus1The Jesus way of dealing with conflict is to go through a series of procedures, starting with those which will cause least hurt, and gradually moving to more severe ones, always making sure that the others have been tried and have failed.
Verse 15 is the first step, a one-to-one meeting marked by discretion and privacy – done “by yourselves alone”. The conclusion has a touching simplicity – “you have won back your brother.”
Verse 16 is the next stage, used only if the first has not worked. Those in authority must be humble enough to recognize when they lack the necessary qualities to influence the wrongdoer, and must seek help.
The text continues to stress the importance of discretion – just “one or two others” are invited to help.
The quotation from Deutoronomy must be interpreted correctly. The setting of the teaching is not a court of law, but a human community. Jesus is merely drawing an analogy – just as in a court the prosecution needs help, we too need help in settling community conflicts.
community discussonVerse 17a is the third stage – recourse to the community. This can be interpreted as a plenary session or a meeting of the official leaders of the community. In either case the time for confidentiality is passed, the matter must be brought into the open.
Verse 17b brings in a new dimension. Jesus reminds us that a community must have its rules and a time comes when they must be insisted on. This verse complements what went before in a wonderful way. Without the previous verses, it would come across as harsh; without this verse, they would come across as naïve. By taking them together we enter into Jesus’ holistic, extraordinarily balanced teaching.
The reference to “pagans and tax collectors” is strange when we remember Jesus’ special care for these two groups. We can however take the expression as it stands, referring it to those whom the community has a right to exclude. In the light of Jesus’ other teaching, some would add, “remember you have to reach out to them also.”
Verses 18 and 19 can be, and have often been, misinterpreted. Perhaps under the influence of this teaching, Church leaders have assumed the right to pronounce judgment in the name of God – even deciding who will be consigned to hell. Our meditation must not lead us there, fostering arrogance in the exercise of authority. This is specially important when we are dealing with social conflicts, religious ones in particular.
In the prayer below, I propose an interpretation which sees Jesus as the model authority figure. He is not the kind of person (parent, community leader, spiritual guide) who delegates responsibility and then takes it back. He doesn’t want us to be always looking over our shoulders; he promises to back us in whatever we decide.
The mention of “the Father in heaven” could be a hint that God’s way of delegating authority is the model for all fathers – physical and spiritual.
listenJesus knows that there is always the possibility of our making mistakes. Verse 19 then means that God knows what we are really trying to do when we decide to exclude a member of our community. He will not necessarily accept our verdict, but he will look with approval at the ideal we wanted to affirm.

Scripture Prayer Reflection
Lord, we thank you for sending us teachers who show us how to handle quarrels
– in our families, work places or Church communities;
– when we work together for social justice;
– between different religions.
Like Jesus and all good teachers, they don’t teach in the abstract,
but walk with us when we have to deal with a problem.
Someone does something wrong in our community
– treats another member unjustly;
– is dishonest with money;
– is unfaithful to marriage or religious vows;
– compromises the ideals of the group.
Pres. Jimmy Carter
       U.S.  President. Jimmy Carter
We tend to talk about it among ourselves and outside the community,
but you correct us through people like Jesus,
– one of our parents, a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle;
– someone in our workplace;
– a leader in our Church community;
– a friend.
They make us go and have it out with the wrongdoer,
alone between our two selves,
so that if they listen to us, without any fuss we have won back the brother or sister.
Things often don’t work out as simply as that, however.
It sometimes happens that those we try to correct don’t listen to us.
This is the moment when we need Jesus again,
someone who will not allow us to give up,
who will show us that perhaps we were the wrong person to make the approach,
– we lacked the expertise,
– didn’t listen enough,
– our race, nationality, age group or religion was too great an obstacle.
As in a court case where a prosecutor looks for two or three witnesses to sustain a charge,
we must humble ourselves and look around for one or two others,
people more trusted or competent than we are,
take them along with us and have a meeting where we can talk things out honestly.
Sometimes this too fails, and we thank you that once more you do not abandon us;
you send us a friend or mentor who does not let us give up in discouragement,
makes us bring the problem to the community
and have it discussed at a general meeting.
Look at yourself, yourown position
      Look at yourself, your own position
Quite frequently it happens that someone we would not have expected
comes up with a solution that is acceptable to all sides.
We thank you for those who help us accept the possibility
that even this may not succeed,
who stir up within us the honesty and courage to lay down some laws
which will make it clear that those who do not observe them
can no longer be members of the community,
just as happened with pagans and tax collectors in the time of Jesus.
To be able to take that kind of painful decision we need to have confidence in ourselves.
Don’t allow us to see you as the kind of father who gives his children responsibility
and then blames them for exercising it.
Help us rather to recognize you as the model Father, the heavenly one,
who has really entrusted the world to us
so that we don’t have to be all the time looking over our shoulders;
we know that whatever we bind on earth you shall consider bound in heaven,
and whatever we loose on earth you shall consider loosed in heaven.
Lord, we know that when we have to exercise authority
some members in our community will disagree with us.
Remind us that we are all looking for the same goals:
– respect for the rights of all,
– freedom for ourselves,
– a sense of responsibility,
and that when we agree on anything you will grant it to us,
for where two or three of us meet in your name you are there with us.
Lord, forgive us that when conflicts arise in our Church
we make them public too quickly,
we do not take time to have things out between ourselves alone first.
Forgive us further that when this doesn’t work we give up;
we do not try to take one or two others along
and see if the matter can be settled at that level.
Forgive us again that at other times we sweep wrongdoing under the carpet
instead of reporting it to the community and if necessary excluding those at fault.
Our problem is that we do not trust that
wherever two or three of us are gathered in your name, you are there with us.
We are afraid that you will hold our mistakes against us,
forgetting the promise of Jesus
that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven
and what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
Lord, we pray that our Church will always work for harmony
between ourselves and other Churches and religions;
that when there are conflicts
we will be the first to have things out between us by ourselves alone,
if necessary bringing along members from one or two other religious groups.
FrancisBartholomewWe pray that when we cannot resolve a conflict
we will be humble enough to report it to a national ecumenical or inter religious organization,
even an international group like the World Council of Churches.
Remind us that where we human beings meet in your name
whatever our faith, you are there with us.

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Thomas O’Loughlin
Introduction to the Celebration
We have just declared that we have gathered here as the people who in the Spirit’s power follow the way of the Son to the Father. However, we all know that following the way of the Lord is much easier said than done. Our own shortcomings lead us to stumble again and again, while the shortcomings of other Christians both hurt us directly and embarrass us. Yet we must continue our task of being disciples, we must be prepared to take the risk of pointing out the failings of others, and, what is even more difficult, we have to have the humility to hear and learn from those who point out our blind spots, weaknesses, and failings. Let us reflect on our need for forgiveness, our need to grow as disciples, and our need to have greater self-knowledge.

Homily Notes
1. Do you like having your faults, limitations, weaknesses, or biases pointed out to you?
last chance2. One of the few attitudes that one can safely assume is universal is that we do not like our faults pointed out, nor the faults of our children, nor the faults of our friends. When they are pointed out, we tend to become defensive (denying that the faults are real or that they are simply the produce of the biases and prejudices of the observer) or aggressive (‘You are pat­ronising me!’ j’You are interfering with my rights’). The proof of this is that in any industry where there is on-going staff assessment, those assessing fellow workers usually have immediate access to lawyers while the workers carry the emergency numbers of their union reps. Likewise, teachers know that even the most incompetent work has to be criticised only in the so-called ‘praise sandwich’: find something that is done well; then pointout the blunders; then conclude with more commendations of the work!
3. It is clear from the gospel that the community of the Christ is to be a little more robust in its way of doing things: the community is called to point out where sisters or brothers are not acting with love towards the community or projecting the lifestyle of the New People called into existence by Jesus. jesus-peter-lovest-thou-me-2This clash between the noting that the community can cen­sure the behaviour of individual members and our inherent dislike of criticism is one of the reasons that many find Christianity distasteful. This is not a new objection to Christianity, but one that can be traced back across the centuries; and it has not been uncommon for people to accept Christianity but reject the notion that there is any place for ‘fraternal correction’ or an authority to excommunicate members. It is this text, after all, that has been cited for centuries as the ‘authority’ fora coercive canon law – and one does not have to be a sociologist to know that that is not a popular aspect of Christianity today!
4. Ironically, on the other hand; the fact that there is not enough fraternal correction by Christians is one of the main objections to Christianity, to the poor leadership of church leaders, and to Christians collectively. The church is condemned for not excommunicating dictators: witness the furore when an army chaplain was sent from Chile to Britain to celebrate midnight Christmas Mass for General Pinochet while detained there. This was seen as an example of church collusion with militarism and dictatorships. The churches are condemned for being chaplains to warlords and of glorifying warfare and ‘baptising’ nationalism and imperialism. The memory of Pius XII is vilified for not making statements about The Holocaust. The churches are condemned for having owned slaves and for not condemning slavery (and that support for slavery goes all the way back: note that St Patrick stated that part of the wickedness of the Irish was that they stole his family’s slaves – and they were a clerical family for at least three generations). Bishops are accused of covering up for, and not punishing, those clergy guilty of abusing children and vulnerable adults. And, part of the blame for the ecological crisis is usually laid at the way that Christians have interpreted Genesis 1:28: ‘Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ And the list goes on and on. Prodigal-Son5Moreover, in everyone of these cases there is more than a grain of truth: people expect those who claim to know the mind of God, or to be disciples, to have a higher awareness of morality and a greater courage in speaking out against falsehood, deceit, and injustice in the world.
5. So when it comes to speaking out with a voice of ‘fraternal’ (no doubt this masculine language will be seen as another of the church’s blindspots) correction, Christians are ‘damned if they do, and damned if they don’t’.
6. What can we draw from today’s gospel that will help us? Perhaps all we can do is highlight the dilemma: we want others corrected, but not ourselves. Part of our human condition is that we may want to grow and improve, but we also want to avoid correction. We want to know and highlight the problems with others, but not ourselves. But it is already an improvement, when we have heard about this in-built contradiction in our make-up that is a stumbling block in the path of each us.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
Most people dislike being corrected and they are embarrassed if required to correct others. In addition, it is not politically correct nowadays to criticise other people. Certainly, it has always been regarded as bad manners to correct someone for grammatical errors in speech and writing, unless, of course, one is a teacher or a parent.
correctionHowever, once again Jesus teaches us that, as in so many other areas of life, Christians are called to be different from others regarding honest and necessary correction of family members, friends and colleagues. Christian discipleship demands that, in the words of Jesus, ‘if your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves’ (Mt 18:15). This means that we are challenged to encourage other people to cease any behaviour and change any attitudes that prevent them from living fully Christian lives and allowing their souls to be saved.
Naturally, many of us avoid conflict situations. Often this inhibits us from saying what we know to be true. Many families today have members whose lifestyles contradict the faith they profess. For example, the widespread practice of unmarried couples living together as husband and wife is one of many instances of such disregard for God’s law of love. Yet, few of us are prepared to challenge, gently but firmly, our children or our brothers and sisters about the inappropriateness and sinfulness of such lifestyles.
conflictSimilarly, few of us ever think about respectfully correcting colleagues in the workplace who, for example, use bad language and are intemperate or rude in their dealings with other people. We mistakenly follow society’s customs about tolerating all sorts of unacceptable behaviour instead of obeying the clear teaching of Jesus who tells us to correct one another when necessary.
He goes even further. When the person we are correcting is unresponsive, Jesus advises us to seek the assistance of the wider Christian community so that the person being challenged and corrected will realise that creating mutual respect and harmonious relationships among people is the responsibility of the entire Christian community.
This teaching of Jesus is very clear. Yet it is widely ignored. Mark Twain once wrote: ‘Most people are bothered by those passages in scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, the passages in scripture which trouble me most are those that I do understand.’ Could the same be true about us?
Jesus empowers usFrequently, when we are faithful to Jesus’ teaching and when we correct other people gently but firmly in spiritual and religious matters, we are described as being uncharitable. Yet the gospel challenge is to correct one another in love and with respect so that the entire Christian community, all members of the Church of Christ, may glorify the wonder and the beauty of God who has made each one of us in the divine image and likeness.
For meditation
  If he listens to you, you have won back your brother. (Mt 18:15)
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Fr Donal Neary, S.J
Each other’s keepers
In any group, small and big, things cause friction. Everyone thinks his or her way is right. We can fight over who is right. Some things are worth a fight, others not.
In the big questions of life, we need the advice, support and love of the other. Many people ask themselves, “Why I didn’t give an honest opinion about a decision like marriage or a job or a course of studies which seemed ill-advised to everyone?’ We all have good and not-so-good tendencies. We can only advise as best we can, sensitively and wisely, and hope we get a hearing.
We are afraid to hurt, to be rejected. Why do we let so many people drink themselves into trouble and never tell them? The terror of a neighbourhood, no matter what age, needs to be con­fronted. The problem of drugs in a neighbourhood is not con­fronted. Crime is not reported.
In small and big things we are each others’ keepers. Jesus is saying something like that today. Parents can find this difficult as they try to guide the family well and not lose them. We have social responsibility in the family and in the neighbourhood and even worldwide for the common good.
God wants the best for each of us. We can help each other to goodness, we can support each other, advise each other, pray for and with each other, and help each other on our way to God.
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From The Connections:

THE WORD:
Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel is a collection of Jesus’ sayings on the practical challenges facing the Christian community, including status-seeking, scandal, division and, the topic of today's reading, conflict.
Today’s Gospel reading sounds more like regulations devised by an ecclesiastical committee than a discourse by Jesus (this chapter has been called the “church-order discourse” of Jesus). But the real point of Jesus’ exhortation is that we must never tolerate any breech of personal relationship between us and another member of the Christian community.  At each stage of the process – personal discussion, discussion before witnesses, discussion before the whole community – the goal is to win the erring Christian back to the community (the three-step process of reconciliation outlined by Jesus here corresponds to the procedure of the Qumran community).
Jesus’ exhortation closes with a promise of God's presence in the midst of every community, regardless of size, bound together by faith.

HOMILY POINTS:
Today’s Gospel outlines a process of reconciliation among divided members of a community.  Jesus calls his hearers to seek honesty and sincerity in all relationships, to put aside self-interest, anger and wounded pride, and take the first step in healing the rifts that destroy the sense of love that binds family and friends, church and community – the love of Christ is the "debt" that binds us to one another.
In the “rules” and “procedures” for bringing sinners back to the community he lays out in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to build communities that are inclusive, not exclusive: to bring the lost back, not out of pride or zealousness, but out of “the debt that binds us to love one another.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the “church” — not the institutional capital ‘C’ Church, but the lower-case ‘c’ church that is you and I, human beings who struggle to follow Jesus.  That is the important lesson of today’s Gospel: the ability of individuals who come together as disciples, inspired by the Gospel Jesus, to accomplish great works of compassion, reconciliation, healing and justice. 
Today’s exhortation by Jesus is designed to help us create and maintain households of love and forgiveness and communities of reconciliation and peace, where even the smallest and youngest and least able to contribute are as welcomed and honored as we would welcome and honor Christ himself.  Christ promises that whenever we gather in his name, he is in our midst.  Sometimes it requires an extra sharp and focused vision of faith to realize and recognize Christ with us, but he is always there.  Christ’s presence should move us, inspire us, transform us into a community of disciples and witnesses of his resurrection.

Moving beyond the argument
Having an argument with someone we love is not unusual.  We all experience rifts of various degrees with family and friends.  There are times when we all act insensitively and say hurtful things.
The question is how we deal with those arguments and heal those rifts.
In a recent article in The Wall Street Journal (July 15, 2014), reporter Elizabeth Bernstein spoke with psychologists, therapists and counselors about how to best make up after an argument. 
One psychologist summarized the process this way:  “You don’t want to avoid [conflict].  You want to manage it.”
How?  The Journal article outlines five steps:
First:  Wait to talk.  Give time for both of you to calm down.  If one side is still “hot,” the other’s apology will only escalate the argument.
Second:  Give up the idea of being right.  Remember that each of you believes that you are right and the other is in the wrong.  Focus instead on each other’s feelings.
Third: Verbalize your understanding of how the other person feels:  “I understand that you are hurt because . . . “  And ask if you are correct.
Fourth:  Quash the impulse to defend yourself.  If you apologize and the other person says, “Yes, you behaved badly,” just nod your head.  Explain to the other that you really care about him or her and that you are willing to modify your behavior.
Fifth:  Accept the fact that it will take a while to feel better.  Care enough to check in later.  If each of you shows the other that you really care, the larger issues will resolve themselves.
And never use the word “but” in an apology.  “I’m sorry, but . . . ” undermines the entire purpose of apologizing.

The point of both The Wall Street Journal article and today’s Gospel is that reconciliation takes determined and focused work.  Elizabeth Bernstein offers several insights into healing a rift between family members and friends; Jesus outlines a process for reconciling a conflict within a community.  Discipleship is the hard work of building community and the harder work of reconciliation — work that is grounded in love for the other, work what begins with respect and love for every human being, work that seeks God’s justice and peace above all.  Gospel-centered reconciliation confronts those misunderstandings and issues that divide us, grieve us and embitter us, not out of anger or a need to “even the score,” but out of a commitment to imitate the great love and mercy of God.  
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ILLUSTRATIONS:

1.     Fr. Jude Botelho 

The reading refers to a primitive kind of police, the watchman who stood on the Palestinian hills and blew his trumpet to warn of invaders. Prophets like Ezekiel saw themselves as watchmen over the spiritual dangers that threatened God's people. Ezekiel reminds us that if my brother does something wrong to me I have to take responsibility for his/her actions as a believer. If I do not do so I will be held accountable for his behaviour and action. Today, much evil is done because good people prefer to be silent or say "It is none of my business!" As Christians it becomes our business to respond to every situation with faith and love. 

"What would you do"?

Suppose you heard your son's best friend say to your son, "If you need any answer in the math's test, just give me a signal." How would you respond? Jerome Weideman, author of the book Hand of the Hunter, was involved in such a situation as a boy. He said that about 30 years ago he was attending a public school on New York's lower East Side. He had a third-grade arithmetic teacher named Mrs. O'Neill. One day she gave her class a test. When she was grading the papers she noticed that 12 boys had given the same unusual wrong answer to the same question. The next day she asked the 12 boys to remain after the dismissal bell. Then without accusing any of them, she wrote 21 words on the board. They read: "The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out." Then she wrote the name of the man who said them: Thomas Babington Macaulay. Weidman wrote: "I don't know about the other 11 boys. Speaking for only one of the dozen with whom I am on intimate terms, I can say this: it was the most important single lesson of my life."

Mark Link in 'Sunday Homilies'

In today's Gospel Matthew deals with the relationship of members of the Church and highlights one of the most painful responsibilities that we have towards others, namely fraternal correction. Jesus reminds us that if there is any breakdown in our relationship, if we are hurt by our brother we should not wait but be the first to put things right, to have it out, to speak about it in private, in order to build the relationship again. The important thing is to do it with love, delicacy and tact so that the other is not made to feel small in the eyes of the community. Two aspects of Jesus' teaching here are striking: He has standards, and he uses a wise progression. The first step of the progression is to go to the offender and speak directly to the person rather than to anyone else. "If your brother does something wrong, go and have it out with him alone, between your two selves." The Gospel also tells us that only if you cannot solve the problem in private do we call others to be part of the reconciliation move, and that too, not to strengthen my argument but that we might be objective and have a third-party opinion on the matter. The point is that we should do everything in our power to reach out and help the other to be aware of the possible cause of misunderstanding, error or pain before we break off relationship with others. Sometimes, even if I am right do I have to prove the other is wrong?

The story is told of a lady who was having a pleasant journey travelling by train from New York to Philadelphia as there was only one more passenger besides her. But her joy was short-lived when the man lit a cigar and started smoking. The lady deliberately coughed and made an unpleasant face. Nothing worked. He continued to smoke. Then she blurted out: "You might be a foreigner. Don't you know there is a smoking car up ahead? Smoking is prohibited here." The man quietly put out the cigar and maintained his equanimity. When the conductor came to check the tickets the lady realized with horror that her co-passenger was the famous General Ulysses Grant. She had boarded his private car by mistake. As the lady made a hasty exit, the General did not even look her way so as not to embarrass her. He turned his head and smiled only after the lady was out of sight.
Anonymous

Long Walk to Freedom

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela describes his long years of imprisonment on Robben Island. He tells how one day he was called to the main office. General Steyn was visiting the Islands and wanted to know from Mandela if the other prisoners had any complaints. Badenhorst, the officer in command of the island, was also present. Now Badenhorst was feared and hated by the prisoners. In a calm, but forceful and truthful manner, Mandela informed the visitor about the chief complaints of the prisoners. But he did so without bitterness or recriminations. The general duly took notice of what he had to say, which amounted to a damning indictment of Badenhorst's regime. The following day Badenhorst went to Mandela and said, "I'm leaving the Island. I just want to wish you people good luck." The remark left Mandela dumbfounded. Mandela says that he thought of the incident for a long time afterwards. Badenhorst was perhaps the most callous and barbaric commanding officer they had on the Island. But that incident revealed that there was another side to his nature, a side that had been obscured but that still existed. And Mandela concludes, "It is a useful reminder that all men, even the seemingly cold-blooded, have a core of decency, and that if their hearts are touched, they are capable of changing.
Flor McCarthy in 'New Sunday Holy days and Liturgies'

Room for Adjustment!

Many years ago there was a woman who lived in a small village in France. Trained as a nurse, she devoted her life to caring for the sick and the needy. After many years of kind and selfless service to the village families, the woman died. She had no family of her own, so the town's folk planned a beautiful funeral for her, a fitting tribute to the woman to whom so many owed their lives. The parish priest, however, pointed out that, because she was a Protestant, she could not be buried in the town's Catholic cemetery. The villagers protested, but the priest didn't relent. It was not easy for the priest either, because he too had been cared for by the woman during a serious illness. But the rules of the church were very clear; she would have to be buried outside the fence of the cemetery. The day of the funeral arrived, and the whole village accompanied the woman's casket to the cemetery, where she was buried - outside the fence. But that night, a group of villagers armed with shovels, sneaked into the cemetery. Then they quietly set to work -they moved the fence!
Simon K. In 'The Sunday Liturgy'

May we never walk the path of life and love alone, but with and for others!

2. Connections: 

THE WORD:

Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel is a collection of Jesus’ sayings on the practical challenges facing the Christian community, including status-seeking, scandal, division and, the topic of today's reading, conflict.

Today’s Gospel reading sounds more like regulations devised by an ecclesiastical committee than a discourse by Jesus (this chapter has been called the “church-order discourse” of Jesus). But the point of Jesus’ exhortation is that we must never tolerate any breech of personal relationship between us and another member of the Christian community.  At each stage of the process -- personal discussion, discussion before witnesses, discussion before the whole community -- the goal is to win the erring Christian back to the community (the three-step process of reconciliation outlined by Jesus here corresponds to the procedure of the Qumran community).

Jesus’ exhortation closes with a promise of God's presence in the midst of every community, regardless of size, bound together by faith.

HOMILY POINTS:

Today’s Gospel outlines a process of reconciliation among divided members of a community.  Jesus calls his hearers to seek honesty and sincerity in all relationships, to put aside self-interest, anger and wounded pride, and take the first step in healing the rifts that destroy the sense of love that binds family and friends, church and community -- the love of Christ is the "debt" that binds us to one another.

In the “rules” and “procedures” for bringing sinners back to the community he lays out in today’s Gospel, Jesus calls us to build communities that are inclusive, not exclusive: to bring the lost back, not out of pride or zealousness, but out of “the debt that binds us to love one another.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the “church” — not the institutional capital ‘C’ Church, but the lower-case ‘c’ church that is you and I, human beings who struggle to follow Jesus.  That is the important lesson of today’s Gospel: the ability of individuals who come together as disciples, inspired by the Gospel Jesus, to accomplish great works of compassion, reconciliation, healing and justice. 

Today’s exhortation by Jesus is designed to help us create and maintain households of love and forgiveness and communities of reconciliation and peace, where even the smallest and youngest and least able to contribute are as welcomed and honored as we would welcome and honor Christ himself.  Christ promises that whenever we gather in his name, he is in our midst.  Sometimes it requires an extra sharp and focused vision of faith to realize and recognize Christ with us, but he is always there.  Christ’s presence should move us, inspire us, transform us into a community of disciples and witnesses of his resurrection.     

Small ‘c’ church

On a business trip to South America, he visited a small church in one of the poor barrios.  He was deeply moved by what he saw: the joy-filled faith of these families despite the overwhelming poverty of their daily lives.  When he returned home, he was telling some friends after Mass about what he had seen.  The group wondered what they could do to help, so they contacted the pastor of the barrio parish.  The priest expressed gratitude for any help, especially for the parish’s school and small clinic.  So the group collected school and medical supplies and shipped them; next they gathered up blankets and clothes; now they are raising money to dig a new well for the community.  They see themselves as just a group of friends doing what they are able to do for their South American brothers and sisters.  But, in truth, they are being church.

It’s known as “the list” — names and telephone numbers of folks in the parish who can be called day or night.  An elderly parishioner needs a ride to the doctor?  Call Susan.  The young couple struggling through her difficult pregnancy?  Sheila and Pat will make sure they have supper and groceries this week.  The one car of a family whose parents have been out of work for some time breaks down?  Neil knows what to do.  It is more than a list of numbers.  It is church.

When they were in grammar school, they participated in the parish’s vacation religious education program every summer and always had a great time.  Now that they are in high school, they return every July to serve as leaders and counselors — and often become big brothers and big sisters to the kids.  The adults who are responsible for the week’s program will tell you immediately that these teens make the program go.  They are more than a terrific group of generous teenagers.  They are church.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of the “church” — not the institutional capital ‘C’ Church, but the lower-case ‘c’ church that is you and I, human beings who struggle to follow Jesus.  That is the important lesson of today’s Gospel: the ability of individuals who come together as disciples, inspired by the Gospel Jesus, to accomplish great works of compassion, reconciliation, healing and justice.  May the grace of God bring us together, even just two or three of us, in Jesus’ name, enabling us to mirror God’s love in our midst.  

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ILLUSTRATIONS: 
    
Finger bowl
Here is a wonderful story that dates back to the 19th century England :

According to the account, Queen Victoria was once at a diplomatic reception in London . The guest of honor was an African chieftain. All went well during the meal until, at the end, finger bowls were served. The guest of honor had never seen a British finger bowl, and no one had thought to brief him beforehand about its purpose. So he took the bowl in his two hands, lifted it to his mouth, and drank its contents down!
For an instant there was breathless silence among the British privilege guests, and then they began to whisper to one another. All that stopped; however, when Queen Victoria silently took her finger bowl in her two hands, lifted it, and drank its contents! A moment later, 500 surprised British ladies and gentlemen simultaneously drank the contents of their own finger bowls.
It was the queen’s uncommon courtesy that guarded her guest from certain embarrassment.
This is a very rare but very effective human trait which only true leaders can demonstrate!

Moral of the story
While the most common human trait is to look for chances to humiliate someone else or be neutral when they make a mistake, it takes presence of mind, uncommon courtesy to follow someone else’s mistake in order to guard them from embarrassment!

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From Fr. Tony Kadavil's Collection:

1: “Fraulein, will you forgive me?"
Corrie ten Boom often thought back over the horrors of the Ravensbruck concentration camp. How could she ever forgive the former Nazis who had been her jailers? Where was love, acceptance, and forgiveness in a horror camp where more than 95,000 women died? How could she ever forget the horrible cruelty of the guards and the smoke constantly coming from the chimney of the crematorium? Then in 1947 Corrie was speaking in a church in Munich, and when the meeting was over she saw one of the most cruel male guards of Ravensbruck coming forward to speak to her. He had his hand outstretched. "I have become a Christian," he explained. "I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?" A conflict raged in Corrie's heart. The Spirit of God urged her to forgive. The spirit of bitterness and coldness urged her to turn away. "Jesus, help me," she prayed. Then she knew what she must do. "I can lift my hand," she thought to herself. "I can do that much." As their hands met it was as if warmth and healing broke forth with tears and joy. "I forgive you, brother, with all my heart," she said. Later Corrie testified that “it was the power of the Holy Spirit" who had poured the love of God into her heart that day" (Garrie F. Williams, "Welcome, Holy Spirit." Copyright (c) 1994) I don't know any other way true forgiveness can take place. We turn our hurt over to God. We ask God for the ability to forgive. 

2: “I must forgive”:  
Sister Helen Prejean, in her book Dead Man Walking, tells the real story of Lloyd LeBlanc, a Roman Catholic layman, whose son was murdered. When he arrived in the cane field with the sheriff’s deputies to identify his son David’s body, LeBlanc immediately knelt by his boy’s body and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. When he came to the words: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us," he realized the depth of the commitment he was making. "Whoever did this, I must forgive them, I resolved," he later told Sr. Prejean. LeBlanc confessed that it had been difficult not to be overcome by the bitterness and feelings of revenge that welled up from time to time, especially on David’s birthday. But for the rest of his life, forgiveness was prayed for and struggled for and won. He went to the execution of the culprit Patrick Sonnier, not for revenge but hoping for an apology. Before sitting in the electric chair Patrick Sonnier, the murderer said, "Mr. Le Blanc, I want to ask your forgiveness for what I did," and Lloyd LeBlanc nodded his head, signaling forgiveness he had already given. Today’s Gospel reminds us and challenges us to continue on the path to forgiveness and reconciliation.

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One New Year's Eve at London's Garrick Club, British dramatist Frederick Lonsdale was asked by Symour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship. "You must," Hicks said to Lonsdale. "It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time. Go over now and wish him a happy New Year."

So Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy. "I wish you a happy New Year," he said, "but only one."

Today in the Word, July 5, 1993.


Shortly after the turn of the century, Japan invaded, conquered, and occupied Korea. Of all of their oppressors, Japan was the most ruthless. They overwhelmed the Koreans with a brutality that would sicken the strongest of stomachs. Their crimes against women and children were inhuman. Many Koreans live today with the physical and emotional scars from the Japanese occupation.

One group singled out for concentrated oppression was the Christians. When the Japanese army overpowered Korea one of the first things they did was board up the evangelical churches and eject most foreign missionaries. It has always fascinated me how people fail to learn from history. Conquering nations have consistently felt that shutting up churches would shut down Christianity. It didn't work in Rome when the church was established, and it hasn't worked since. Yet somehow the Japanese thought they would have a different success record.

The conquerors started by refusing to allow churches to meet and jailing many of the key Christian spokesmen. The oppression intensified as the Japanese military increased its profile in the South Pacific. The "Land of the Rising Sum" spread its influence through a reign of savage brutality. Anguish filled the hearts of the oppressed -- and kindled hatred deep in their souls.

One pastor persistently entreated his local Japanese police chief for permission to meet for services. His nagging was finally accommodated, and the police chief offered to unlock his church ... for one meeting. It didn't take long for word to travel. Committed Christians starving for an opportunity for unhindered worship quickly made their plans. Long before dawn on that promised Sunday, Korean families throughout a wide area made their way to the church. They passed the staring eyes of their Japanese captors, but nothing was going to steal their joy. As they closed the doors behind them they shut out the cares of oppression and shut in a burning spirit anxious to glorify their Lord.

The Korean church has always had a reputation as a singing church. Their voices of praise could not be concealed inside the little wooden frame sanctuary. Song after song rang through the open windows into the bright Sunday morning. For a handful of peasants listening nearby, the last two songs this congregation sang seemed suspended in time. It was during a stanza of "Nearer My God to Thee" that the Japanese police chief waiting outside gave the orders. The people toward the back of the church could hear them when they barricaded the doors, but no one realized that they had doused the church with kerosene until they smelled the smoke. The dried wooden skin of the small church quickly ignited. Fumes filled the structure as tongues of flame began to lick the baseboard on the interior walls. There was an immediate rush for the windows. But momentary hope recoiled in horror as the men climbing out the windows came crashing back in -- their bodies ripped by a hail of bullets. 

The good pastor knew it was the end. With a calm that comes from confidence, he led his congregation in a hymn whose words served as a fitting farewell to earth and a loving salutation to heaven. The first few words were all the prompting the terrified worshipers needed. With smoke burning their eyes, they instantly joined as one to sing their hope and leave their legacy. Their song became a serenade to the horrified and helpless witnesses outside. Their words also tugged at the hearts of the cruel men who oversaw this flaming execution of the innocent.

Alas! and did my Savior bleed?
and did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I?
Just before the roof collapsed they sang the last verse,
their words an eternal testimony to their faith.
But drops of grief can ne'er repay
the debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away
'Tis all that I can do!
At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away --
It was there by faith I received my sight,
And now I am happy all the day.

The strains of music and wails of children were lost in a roar of flames. The elements that once formed bone and flesh mixed with the smoke and dissipated into the air. The bodies that once housed life fused with the charred rubble of a building that once housed a church. But the souls who left singing finished their chorus in the throne room of God. Clearing the incinerated remains was the easy part. Erasing the hate would take decades. For some of the relatives of the victims, this carnage was too much. Evil had stooped to a new low, and there seemed to be no way to curb their bitter loathing of the Japanese.

In the decades that followed, that bitterness was passed on to a new generation. The Japanese, although conquered, remained a hated enemy. The monument the Koreans built at the location of the fire not only memorialized the people who died, but stood as a mute reminder of their pain.

Inner rest? How could rest coexist with a bitterness deep as marrow in the bones? Suffering, of course, is a part of life. People hurt people. Almost all of us have experienced it at some time. Maybe you felt it when you came home to find that your spouse had abandoned you, or when your integrity was destroyed by a series of well-timed lies, or when your company was bled dry by a partner. It kills you inside. Bitterness clamps down on your soul like iron shackles.

The Korean people who found it too hard to forgive could not enjoy the "peace that passes all understanding." Hatred choked their joy.

It wasn't until 1972 that any hope came. A group of Japanese pastors traveling through Korea came upon the memorial. When they read the details of the tragedy and the names of the spiritual brothers and sisters who had perished, they were overcome with shame. Their country had sinned, and even though none of them were personally involved (some were not even born at the time of the tragedy), they still felt a national guilt that could not be excused. They returned to Japan committed to right a wrong. There was an immediate outpouring of love from their fellow believers. They raised ten million yen ($25,000). The money was transferred through proper channels and a beautiful white church building was erected on the sight of the tragedy. When the dedication service for the new building was held, a delegation from Japan joined the relatives and special guests.

Although their generosity was acknowledged and their attempts at making peace appreciated, the memories were still there. Hatred preserves pain. It keeps the wounds open and the hurts fresh. The Koreans' bitterness had festered for decades. Christian brothers or not, these Japanese were descendants of a ruthless enemy. The speeches were made, the details of the tragedy recalled, and the names of the dead honored. It was time to bring the service to a close. Someone in charge of the agenda thought it would be appropriate to conclude with the same two songs that were sung the day the church was burned.  The song leader began the words to "Nearer My God to Thee." 

But something remarkable happened as the voices mingled on the familiar melody. As the memories of the past mixed with the truth of the song, resistance started to melt. The inspiration that gave hope to a doomed collection of churchgoers in a past generation gave hope once more. The song leader closed the service with the hymn "At the Cross." The normally stoic Japanese could not contain themselves. The tears that began to fill their eyes during the song suddenly gushed from deep inside. They turned to their Korean spiritual relatives and begged them to forgive. The guarded, calloused hearts of the Koreans were not quick to surrender. But the love of the Japanese believers --not intimidated by decades of hatred -- tore at the Koreans' emotions.

At the cross, at the cross
Where I first saw the light,
And the burden of my heart rolled away ...

One Korean turned toward a Japanese brother. Then another. And then the floodgates holding back a wave of emotion let go. The Koreans met their new Japanese friends in the middle. They clung to each other and wept. Japanese tears of repentance and Korean tears of forgiveness intermingled to bathe the site of an old nightmare. Heaven had sent the gift of reconciliation to a little white church in Korea. 

Tim Kimmel, Little House on the Freeway, p. 56-61.


A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. There's more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father's disapproval. After the wedding the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives. But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After 10 years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, Elizabeth found all of her letters; not one had been opened! Today those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored. 

Daily Walk, May 30, 1992.


For the sake of each of us he laid down his life--worth no less than the universe. He demands of us in return our lives for the sake of each other. 

St. Clement of Alexandria.

The Civil War was carnage. Then Jefferson Davis of the Confederacy died. And Ulysses Grant of the Union died. Their widows, Varina Davis and Julia Grant, settled near each other. They became closest of friends.

Source Unknown.

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Sermons.com 

One of the things I like best about the New Testament is that it is so practical. It must have been the fact that Jesus had human beings called disciples always with him that forced him to speak in such everyday terms about everyday problems. Sometimes Christians disagree in the congregation of believers. Sometimes they quarrel. Sometimes they hold grudges against each other. The Scripture for today says that we must never tolerate any situation in which there is a breach of personal relationship between us and another member of the Christian community.

In this eighteenth chapter of Matthew Jesus admits that disciples are going to have conflicts; but they are to resolve them.
It is very true today that the behavior of us church members on this very issue makes Christianity to the outside world either repulsive or attractive.

It isn't a matter that Christians are perfect and will not have conflicts. There will always be quarrels, differences of opinion on how and who, disappointments with preachers and councils, hurt feelings, bent pride, loss of face, and lots of mistakes. It's the idea that Christians can resolve these conflicts as no other fellowship can, that Jesus puts before us today.

Comus, a Duke of Florence, had a saying that indicated the limitations of his religion: "You shall read that we are commanded to forgive our enemies, but you never read that we are commanded to forgive our friends."
That can happen in the Christian proclamation of the gospel. We spend a lot of time in our pulpits talking about how Christians are admonished by Jesus Christ to love their enemies and to pray for their enemies. When in actuality, right there in the pew side by side are Christians who hold grudges, hang on to petty hurts, refuse to forgive and love each other within the fellowship. And when they do this, church and Christianity and the whole practice of religion for them is not the joyful experience it ought to be. They miss a large dimension of belonging to God's family.

This particular portion of Matthew (18:15-18) gives us a whole scheme of action for the mending of broken relationships within our "family of God" called the Christian fellowship...
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Anyone remember playing "tag?" The worst thing that could happen to you when you were playing "tag," was to be touched and declared ... "Tag! You're it!" Once you were "tagged" you were the odd one out. Once you were tagged you were the enemy, the outcast, the outlier, and you worked hard to get that moniker off your back by giving it to someone else. 

How times have changed. Now to be "tagged" is to be one of the elect: to be included, to be part of a movement, to be involved in something larger and more important than your own email register. To get "tagged" is to be drawn into a new community with distinctive concerns and a unique consciousness. To be "tagged" means that you have been chosen to participate in a larger experience of life. 

This week's Roman's text is all about being "tagged." As Christians, as those who are participants in a unique community called the body of Christ which is defined by a confession of faith in Jesus Christ as God's Son and our Savior, we are totally "tagged" by a divine challenge. Christians are not defined by their ability to dump icy water over their heads. Christians are known by their ability to dump love over all those they bump into. When you are "tagged" by Christ's love, you are called to "tag" all those you can with that same amazing, transforming, overwhelming love...
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Icon Ambulance: Attention to Detail 

Vic Gundotra posted this story in response to the news Steve Jobs has stepped down as CEO of Apple. We wanted to share this inspirational story about someone who has changed the world in so many ways. 

"One Sunday morning, January 6th, 2008 I was attending religious services when my cell phone vibrated. As discreetly as possible, I checked the phone and noticed that my phone said "Caller ID unknown". I choose to ignore.

After services, as I was walking to my car with my family, I checked my cell phone messages. The message left was from Steve Jobs. "Vic, can you call me at home? I have something urgent to discuss" it said. 

Before I even reached my car, I called Steve Jobs back. I was responsible for all mobile applications at Google, and in that role, had regular dealings with Steve. It was one of the perks of the job. 

"Hey Steve - this is Vic", I said. "I'm sorry I didn't answer your call earlier. I was in religious services, and the caller ID said unknown, so I didn't pick up". 

Steve laughed. He said, "Vic, unless the Caller ID said 'GOD', you should never pick up during services".

I laughed nervously. After all, while it was customary for Steve to call during the week upset about something, it was unusual for him to call me on Sunday and ask me to call his home. I wondered what was so important?

"So Vic, we have an urgent issue, one that I need addressed right away. I've already assigned someone from my team to help you, and I hope you can fix this tomorrow" said Steve. 

"I've been looking at the Google logo on the iPhone and I'm not happy with the icon. The second O in Google doesn't have the right yellow gradient. It's just wrong and I'm going to have Greg fix it tomorrow. Is that okay with you?"

Of course this was okay with me. A few minutes later on that Sunday I received an email from Steve with the subject "Icon Ambulance". The email directed me to work with Greg Christie to fix the icon. 

Since I was 11 years old and fell in love with an Apple II, I have dozens of stories to tell about Apple products. They have been a part of my life for decades. Even when I worked for 15 years for Bill Gates at Microsoft, I had a huge admiration for Steve and what Apple had produced.

But in the end, when I think about leadership, passion and attention to detail, I think back to the call I received from Steve Jobs on a Sunday morning in January. It was a lesson I'll never forget. CEOs should care about details. Even shades of yellow. On a Sunday.

To one of the greatest leaders I've ever met, my prayers and hopes are with you Steve." 

Vic Gundotra
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 Are You Willing to Live in Hell? 

In his book The Great Divorce, C. S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, draws a stark picture of hell. Hell is like a great, vast city, Lewis says, a city inhabited only at its outer edges, with rows and rows of empty houses in the middle. These houses in the middle are empty because everyone who once lived there has quarreled with the neighbors and moved. Then, they quarreled with the new neighbors and moved again, leaving the streets and the houses of their old neighborhoods empty and barren.

That, Lewis says, is how hell has gotten so large. It is empty at its center and inhabited only at the outer edges, because everyone chose distance instead of honest confrontation when it came to dealing with their relationships.

"Look, she's the one who said that about me. Let her come and apologize!"
"We may go to the same church, but that doesn't mean I've got to share a pew with that so-and-so!"
"It'll be a cold day in July before I accept his apology."
That's all well and good, I suppose... if you don't mind living in hell.

Are we really so willing to give up our relationships with others - relationships that have come about and been forged by our desire to follow Jesus? Nowhere, and I do mean nowhere, in the New Testament gospels will you find Jesus saying that the first order of things is always to be
right. But he does have a great deal to say about forgiveness, about relationship, about reconciliation, about service and humility and vulnerability.

He makes it sounds like family, doesn't he?

Randy L. Hyde, Two or Three
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 For Shame

James Twitchell, author of the book, For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture, says that making people feel bad is one of the cures for what ails us. Not every problem can be solved with judicial solutions so shaming those who have made mistakes is becoming popular.

In colonial days they used to put public offenders in stockades in the public square thereby making them feel embarrassed and singling them out as "shameful" members of the community. Fortunately, our society has evolved from that kind of treatment since everyone has certain inalienable rights. But, since our judicial system seems to be waning, there is a trend that appears to be going the other direction.

In Florida, for example, repeatedly convicted drunk drivers are required to use special license plates or bumper stickers alerting others to their status. And in Rhode Island, child abusers have their photo appear in the local newspaper with the caption, "I was convicted for child molestation."

Even here in our town there was a sign posted by the road that listed the names of the local drug offenders.

Shaming people publicly is becoming an accepted practice. The belief is that someone who commits an offense will experience enough shame and embarrassment which will help to turn their lives around. In other words, according to Twitchell, there is a social good in making troublemakers feel bad.

Somehow I cannot see Jesus agreeing with that philosophy.

Keith Wagner, Living Without Shame 
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 Corporate Effects of Sin

 A man is on a boat. He is not alone, but acts as if he were. One night, without warning, he suddenly begins to cut a hole under his seat. 

The other people on the boat shout and shriek at him: "What on earth are you doing? Have you gone mad? Do you want to sink us all? Are you trying to destroy us?" 

Calmly, the man answers: "I don't understand what you want. What I'm doing is none of your business. I paid my way. I'm not cutting under your seat. Leave me alone!" What the fanatic (and the egotist) will not accept, but what you and I cannot forget, is that all of us are in the same boat. 

Elie Wiesel, Parade Magazine.
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 Disharmony in Worship

 There was a church where the pastor and the minister of music were not getting along. As time went by, this began to spill over into the worship service.

The first week the pastor preached on commitment and how we all should dedicate ourselves to the service of God. The music director led the song, "I Shall Not Be Moved."

The second week the pastor preached on tithing and how we all should gladly give to the work of the Lord. The director led the song, "Jesus Paid it All."

The third week the pastor preached on gossiping and how we should all watch our tongues. The music director led the song, "I Love to Tell the Story."

With all this going on, the pastor became very disgusted over the situation and the following Sunday told the congregation that he was considering resigning. The musician led the song, "Oh Why Not Tonight?"

As it came to pass, the pastor did indeed resign. The next week he informed the church that it was Jesus who led him there and it was Jesus who was taking him away. The music leader led the song, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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 Criticism 

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. 

Norman Vincent Peale
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 True Freedom in Forgiveness
 
When Bill Clinton met Nelson Mandela for the first time, he had a question on his mind: "When you were released from prison, Mr. Mandela," the former President said, "I woke my daughter at three o'clock in the morning. I wanted her to see this historic event." Then President Clinton zeroed in on his question: "As you marched from the cellblock across the yard to the gate of the prison, the camera focused in on your face. I have never seen such anger, and even hatred, in any man as was expressed on your face at that time. That's not the Nelson Mandela I know today," said Clinton. "What was that about?"

Mandela answered, "I'm surprised that you saw that, and I regret that the cameras caught my anger. As I walked across the courtyard that day I thought to myself, 'They've taken everything from you that matters. Your cause is dead. Your family is gone. Your friends have been killed. Now they're releasing you, but there's nothing left for you out there.' And I hated them for what they had taken from me. Then, I sensed an inner voice saying to me, 'Nelson! For twenty-seven years you were their prisoner, but you were always a free man! Don't allow them to make you into a free man, only to turn you into their prisoner!'" 

You can never be free to be a whole person if you are unable to forgive. 

King Duncan, Collected Sermons, www.Sermons.com
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Loving Confrontation 

Several years ago, a good friend and colleague in ministry came to visit me at the church I was serving in Memphis. After we exchanged greetings, he put his arm around my shoulders and said, "Johnny, you know I love you. That's why I have to tell you this." And he proceeded to gently, lovingly scold me for the way I had been handling a particular situation in the church. And he was absolutely right. I knew that the way I had been dealing with that situation was not the right way to handle it. My motivation was good, but my actions were wrong. And after he left, I knew that here was a friend who would stand beside me in tough times, because he loved me enough to risk damaging our friendship by confronting me with my mistake. Loving confrontation, which is what Jesus calls his followers to practice, is never easy. Many of us would prefer to just ignore it, or not name what it is, especially in the church. Out of some sense of false humility, we would rather just keep quiet about it. It's just easier not to get involved. But no matter how painful it may be, sooner or later we must resolve our differences in a Christ-like manner. 

Johnny Dean, Gentiles 'R Us
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Building Bridges 

Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in their 40 years of working together. It began with a small misunderstanding, and grew into a major difference, and finally exploded into an exchange of bitter words followed by weeks of silence. One morning, there was a knock on John's door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter's toolbox. "I'm looking for a few days' work," he said. "Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with? 

Yes," said the older brother. "I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That's my younger brother! Last week, there was a meadow between us, but he took his bulldozer and dug a small river between us. Well I'm going to do him one better. See that pile of old lumber? I want you to build an 8 foot high fence between us. Then I won't need to see his place or his face anymore." The carpenter said, "Show me the nails and the tools, and I'll do a good job for you." 

The older brother had to go to town, so he left for the day. At sunset, when he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped...