We are living in a time of great conflict, which of course is no news to you, but it affects all of us. St. Paul wrote: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
I don’t know about you, but I hate conflict. I go out of my way to avoid it. I know that is not always a good thing. Sometimes you have to confront things head on for the good of all concerned.
The scripture readings today give us advice on how to handle conflict. The toughest conflict is that which happens within a family.
I can tell you from experience of being a police chaplain, the calls that the cops dread the most are family disturbances. For some reason, conflict between close family members can turn violent very quickly, and the cops have to barge right into the middle of it, and try to diffuse it. Even so, sometimes an enraged family member can attack the cop. Sometimes, it ends in violence.
You can tell from the stories of the Bible that conflict among the family grieves the Lord, too. The very first evidence of conflict is between the first two humans to inhabit this earth; Adam and Eve.
The conflict is initiated by the devil, whose smooth talk convinces Eve that no harm will come from eating the forbidden fruit, and that in fact it will make her wise like God, and she will know good and evil. Adam is standing there, and does nothing to protect Eve from the attack of the enemy, and so accepts the fruit as well. Some like to blame Eve for the fall of man, but it was clearly Adam’s fault for not protecting Eve.
Their fate, as we know, was to be driven from the Garden of Eden, and forced to go to work for a living. I bet they were mad at each other over this!
These last three years we have had some of the greatest amount of conflict in this country that I have ever seen. Sure our history has plenty of worse things, like the Civil War, but we are practically in an Uncivil War right now. This is nothing new, though.
As you know from hearing these stories read to you each Sunday, conflict was a constant in the lives of the people of God.
Jesus had a different approach to conflict. He taught a way to peacefully end conflict. To do this, he preached that while rulers may be necessary for governing a kingdom, his disciples must be humble with each other.
In the Gospel according to Matthew chapter 20, Jesus taught them about true greatness:
“Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Like many of the teachings of Jesus, he turned their world upside down. He himself did not come to be a great ruler, to be served by the people, but to be a servant of all, even to the point of giving his life for us all.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a method of conflict resolution that is both peaceful logical.
He says that if anyone has a conflict with another, to try to work it out privately, and it that does not work, to take one of two others along as witnesses. The last resort then, is to involve the church, that is the body of believers in that place, to go together to resolve the conflict, and if the person is found at fault and does not repent he is to be treated as a Gentile and as a tax collector.
Yes, Jesus said that anyone who defies the church in discipline should be shunned. I know this is hard to accept by many who see Jesus as all loving and accepting of everyone no matter what they do.
In fact, Jesus expected the people of his church to confess their sins, and to repent, and told them there were consequences for not doing so.
That being said, I have never heard of anyone being shunned in our church. I hear that it happens in some others, but you know how we hate conflict!
St. Paul also gives instruction to the church about their behavior: “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.”
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
These are great words, and are good advice to us in the church. We are to love each other, or better to say we should care about each other. We are a family, and this is how a family is supposed to act. We should care less about our own needs, and more about the needs of others.
You contribute greatly to the needs of others through your church by giving of your funds towards the many organizations that we support. I commend you for that, so keep up the good work!
We have a great opportunity here, so let us never flag in zeal, but be aglow with the Spirit, as St. Paul said. It is an opportunity for us to show our gratitude for all of our blessings from the Lord. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.