Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This week we hear St. Paul tell the Corinthians: “God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Contemporary culture is inclined to make some key mistakes about that message of reconciliation. This week’s Gospel readings contain a series of passages that can help us avoid those mistakes.
Some people begin and end their approach with Matthew 7:1. They read: “Stop judging that you may not be judged” and conclude that we should not call a sin what it is — a sin.
But this is a mistake! That’s not the genuine Gospel message of reconciliation. First, there is right and wrong, and that needs to be named. Second, this approach takes the verse completely out of its context. When we read the rest of Matthew 7, and the rest of the Gospel, we learn crucial context for understanding what the verse really means.
Later in the Gospel of Matthew we hear Jesus say: “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. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the Church. If he refuses to listen even to the Church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18: 15-17)
Jesus tells us to name sin for what it is. But notice that He also describes a process. That process is also part of the Gospel message of reconciliation. It’s not just what we do but how we do it that matters.
Finally, Peter asks: how often must I forgive a brother who sins against me? Jesus tells him “seventy-seven times,” sometimes rendered as “seventy times seven times.” This is an ancient form of speech meaning, basically: as often as it happens.
So, the genuine ministry of reconciliation means: 1) We are to make judgments. 2) There’s a process for doing so. 3) The goal of the process is forgiveness. 4) We are never to tire of repeating the process.
If we go back and read the rest of Matthew 7, we’ll find that Jesus provides the key for synthesizing it all when He says: “the measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.” How we judge others is how God will judge us.
If I’m committing a sin, I don’t want for everyone not to tell me on the grounds that they shouldn’t be “judgy.” I would rather be confronted. That is the measure I should measure out to others.
At the same time, if I’m in error, I don’t want someone to confront me harshly and publicly as the first step! The first step should be a quiet conversation, one on one. Then a group intervention, and so on. That is the measure I should measure out to others.
This week’s readings entrust us with the message of reconciliation. They also outline what that looks like and contain a valuable lesson in how to read the Bible!