As we know, the consequences of sin are always a triple division, a division with God, a division with others, and a division within ourselves. Jesus had come to bring us through reconciliation to others into the communion with the Church as God and Neighbors. Jesus’ plan is always for unity, for communion, for a love that binds. God is with us to unite us, to save us from rupture and division, to help us to follow him and to carry out God’s plan to restore and unite all things in Christ.
Jesus says that the first step of fraternal correction is to speak directly but privately to the individual who has committed sin. The first step involves a one on one encounter. Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.” He is telling us if we have been hurt by a brother, he wants us to take the initiative to let the other know the way he has sinned and provide an occasion for reconciliation and restoration of unity. He wants us to make the move. This is, of course, what God has done for us in Christ. Even though we sinned against him, he took the initiative in coming to bring about a reconciliation.
If the first step fails, Jesus tells us clearly that such a one-on-one conversation may not always work. We may not “win over our brother” to unity. Winning our brother back to communion is so important that Jesus then turns to a second step: “If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you” to make the same correction. The second step is to bring another person or persons, someone who is wise and gracious. Jesus recognizes that sometimes the person will not change at just one person’s word, but may change if two or three people whom that person respects. The goal is not so much to put the wrongdoer on trial, but to persuade the wrongdoer to see the wrong and to be reconciled.
And if the second step fails, then we must still not give up, but seek the help from the community. To bring the wrongdoer back to communion leads us to the third step, as Jesus said: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church.” We bring it to the community to ask for assistance, hoping that this person will recognize it is serious if representatives of the whole community come to them. It is also a direct request for the prayers of the whole community.
Lastly, if even the community fails to bring about reconciliation, Jesus gives us a fourth step: “If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” Jesus seems to say that we have the right to abandon stubborn offenders and treat them like social outcasts. The tax-collectors and Gentiles were regarded as they are not in communion. However we know from the gospel accounts that Jesus often had fellowship with tax-collectors, ate with them. Jesus refuses no one who is ready to receive pardon, healing, and restoration. While we have the opportunity, we must not give up on the wrongdoer, but, instead make every effort to win that person with the grace and power of God’s healing love and wisdom. To treat that person in such a way means acknowledging clearly this person is not living as a member of the community, but at the same time insistently praying for conversion of that person.
Fraternal correction of others is a duty and responsibility of each member of the community. Our fraternal corrections should be lovingly correction if we hope to bring our wrongdoing brothers and sisters into a deeper holy communion. We know that fraternal correction happens often with our daily relationship. Just as Jesus commends us to give fraternal correction, we should receive fraternal correction as well with an open and humble heart. We are all in need of such correction on the road to holiness.
Let our daily prayer be: Lord, make me an instrument of your healing love and peace. Give me wisdom and courage to bring your healing love and saving truth to those in need of reconciliation and communion. Help us to grow in love through our sincerity of heart for You and our neighbors.
Sr. Therese Loan, CMT