She never intended to hurt anyone. At least that is what Alice said, after she had put together a committee of people from the parish, and had left off Anne’s name.
Anne was hurt. When this was told to Alice, Alice admitted that, well, she really did do it on purpose. Alice said, “Everybody is sick and tired of Anne lording it over them and bossing them around. So I took it upon myself to have Anne sit this one out.”
And some people responded, “Everybody feels that way? Why, Anne is someone perfectly suited to this new committee. Look at how she gets things done.”
Anne was hurt at being left out and she did what, I suppose, a lot of us do when we are feeling wounded. She withdrew from activities. She began talking to her friends about how she had been hurt by Alice. Then she began talking with anyone who would listen about how she had been hurt by Alice.
Anne was seething inside and she hoped that Alice’s project would fail miserably.
Before long, the parish was split into two camps: those who supported Alice who was trying to bring about some new leadership in the parish and some more vitality; and those who were with Anne, who for some twenty years had worked hard in the parish – even harder than most other people.
They each had their supporters. Alice would point out to her people, “Look at Anne. She is opposing all that is good for our parish.” And Anne would claim that “Alice is ruining our parish.”
That is where things were. Then they were both in church on Sunday for Mass and the Gospel that we just heard was read. Anne listened to that Gospel and she felt that she was being personally addressed.
Anne had been hurt by Alice and everybody agreed. At least, all of Anne’s friends agreed that she had been hurt by Alice. But Anne realized that there was one thing that she had never done. She had talked with so many people about Alice, but she had never talked with Alice.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “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.”
Anne was afraid. What if Alice brushed her off? But she prayed for courage, and after Mass she met Alice at the door of the church and asked if they could go for coffee. And Alice agreed.
Over coffee Anne told Alice how sorry she was that she had hurt her by the things that she had said and done. And Alice apologized to Anne for what she had said and done to hurt her. And they were reconciled.
Now, not every story of hurt ends this way. And Jesus acknowledges this in today’s Gospel as it continues. You can go to someone: they may listen to you, or they may not. Anne went to Alice: Alice could choose to meet with Anne, or not.
But the important thing is not that Anne was successful in bringing about reconciliation. The important thing is that Anne was faithful to the Gospel. She did what Jesus asked her to do. She became a minister of reconciliation. Anne took the first step, no matter how it would be received by Alice. And this is a very difficult thing to do.
When there is conflict in our lives – and there will be from time to time; this is part of the human condition – what do we do about it?
–We may ignore the hurt and pretend it is not there.
–We may let that hurt simmer and regularly “stir the pot” of resentment.
–We may go out and talk with everybody else about how we have been treated.
–We may hope that the other person fails miserably – and even add a bit of sabotage to the mix.
–We may become passively aggressive.
–We may even just disappear into the sunset, never to be seen again.
But none of this is what Jesus tells us that we should do. Jesus says that we should take the initiative and go to the person who has sinned against us, whether we are well-received or not. He tells us to be ministers of reconciliation, imitating what God does for us all of the time.
For you and I are sinners and we each bear responsibility for putting Jesus on the cross. And what did He do for us? “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” [Romans 5: 8]. Even while we were still sinners, Jesus took the initiative and died for us to reconcile us to one another and to the Father.
That is the example that Jesus wants us to follow: to be ministers of reconciliation. And when we do so, it is only a pale reflection of what God does for us all the time. But in our trying to do as Jesus asks and does, we help to make our little part of this world a little corner of heaven.
Jesus finishes the Gospel today with a line that we all know by heart. He says, “Amen, I say to you, where two or three are gathered in my name” – or we might even say, “Where two or three are brought back together again in my name” – “there am I in the midst of them.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I wish you God’s peace and God’s grace to be ministers of reconciliation.