41. SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN. Relationship problems

Relationship problems

1. With realism, the gospel addresses the communion problems that take place in the community and indicates us the way to confront them: prominences, scandals, grave sins, personnel offences. The present catechesis collects very diverse situations and contributes a series of tracks for their adequate discernment.
2. In a special manner, Mathew’s chapter 18 helps us to discern the communion problems that take place in the community. In first place, the prominences, that, frequently, appear overlapped or covered up. When the disciples discuss about who is the most important, Jesus calls a child, places him in the middle and says: “I assure you that unless you change and become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of  heaven. Whoever becomes lowly like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18, 3 – 4). The disciples must change, make themselves small, to have a service attitude: “if you want to be first, make yourself the servant of all” (20, 27).
3. A specially grave problem us the scandal of the children. The disciples can not be a falling stone for others: If anyone should cause one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble and gall, it would be better for him to be thrown into the depths of the sea with a great millstone around his neck (Mt 18, 6). The scandal of the little ones is something so grave that there is necessary to implant drastic measures to avoid it: “If your hand or foot drags you into sin, cut it off and throw it away”, “if your eye drags you into sin, tear it out and throw it away.”(18, 8 – 9),“see that you do not despise any of these little ones”. (Mt 18,10).
4. The disciple can yield before the environment the surrounds him. Such is the case of the lost sheep, it is to say, the disciple who is lost and can be recovered: “If some one has a hundred sheep and one of them strays, won’t he leave the ninety-nine on the hillside, and go to look for the stray one?” (18, 12)
5. Before the  grave sin of one of its members, fraternal correction is applied: “If your brother or sister has sinned against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are in private, and if he listens to you, you have won your brother. If you are not listened to, take with you one or two others so that the case may be decided by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he still refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembled Church. But if he does not listen to the Church, then regard such a one as a pagan or a publican.” (Mt 18, 15 – 17). Fraternal correction means the precaution of do not agitate the whole community. The correction must be done first alone. If this first correction fails, it must be repeated before one or two: “so that the whole business is finished by the word of two or three witnesses” (see Dt 19,15). If this second correction also fails, the case should go to the community. If he does not listen to the community, then “he will be for you like a pagan or a publican”, he falls out of the community.
6. The decision of the community upon the communion of one of its members (to tie or to untie, to retain the forgiveness or to forgive) is also acknowledged by God: “whatever you bind on earth, heaven will keep bound; and whatever you unbind on earth, heaven will keep unbound.” (Mt 18, 18). The mission to tie or to untie, assumed in the prayer, may count on the Lord’s presence, since “where two or three are gathered in my Name, I am there among them.” (18, 20; Jn 20, 23)
7. Peter brings up to Jesus a different case, that can happen frequently, the personal offence: Lord, how many times should I forgive the offences of my brother? Up to seven times?. Jesus answered: “I don’t tell you until seven times, but seven times seven” (18,21,22). The situation seems to be referring to an old passage over the revenge in which it is said: “Cain will be avenged seven times, but Lamec will be seventy seven” (Gn 4,24). Jesus´ answer to Peter is contusive: the disciple must forgive always the personal offence. In the spirit of the Gospel, you not only “shall not give false witness against your neighbour” (Ex 20, 16), but besides you shall excuse, forgive. Jesus invites us to address the Father saying: Forgive our offences as we also forgive those who offend us”. (Mt 6, 12)
8. The implacable debtor parable stresses the need for forgiveness (18,23-25). That to whom God has forgiven a large debt, has no compassion of his fellow, who owes him a small amount and who tells him: “Be patient with me, I will pay you everything”. But he did not consent, and he put him on jail until the debt would be paid. Seeing what had happened, the fellows were desolated and they went to their master to tell it. The master called the servant and told him: “Wicked servant, I forgave you all that you owed when you begged me to do so. Weren’t you bound to have pity on your companion as I had pity on you?” The lord was now angry, so he handed his servant over to be punished, until he had paid his whole debt.” Jesus added, “So will my heavenly Father do with you unless each of you sincerely forgive your brother or sister.”

9. Saint Mathews´ chapter 5 also addresses relationship, disputes, insults, lawsuits problems. Jesus tells his disciples: “You have heard that it was said to our people in the past: Do not commit murder; anyone who does kill will have to face trial. But now I tell you: whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial. Whoever insults a brother or sister deserves to be brought before the council; whoever calls a brother or a sister “Fool” deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell”. (5, 21 – 22). Most of the ancient manuscripts say: “Everyone who gets angry against his brother”

10. In fact, the offended brother may manifest annoyed, angry: “So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar and you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with him” (5, 23 – 24). Obviously, according to the context, the insult may vary. Conflicts are judged by the court or before the Council. Divisions and disagreements contaminate the celebration, As Saint Peter says, “that is not anymore, to celebrate Lord’s dinner. He also says: “Brothers and sisters, I beg of you to be careful of those who are causing divisions and troubles in teaching you a different teaching from the one you were taught. Keep away from them”, “with their soft and entertaining language those who are simple of heart, they deceive those who are simple of heart” (Rm 16, 17 – 18)

11. The relationship problem can end before the judge. It is a question of common sense, it is better an agreement that a lawsuit: “be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail.” (Mt 5, 25)

12. Forgiveness includes repentance: “If your brother offends you, rebuke him and if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he offends you seven times in a day but he says to you seven times: ‘I’m sorry,’ forgive him.” (Lk 17, 3-4). The acknowledgment of the offence obtains its forgiveness (Ps 32)

13. Jesus asks his disciples not to return evil for evil: “Do not oppose evil with evil; if someone slaps you on your right cheek, turn and offer the other. If someone sues you in court for your shirt, give your coat as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give when asked and do not turn your back on anyone who wants to borrow from you… Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you…  if you are friendly only to your friends, what is so exceptional about that?” (Mt 5, 39 – 47; Rm 12, 17; 1 Ts 5, 15). Greetings are not denied to anyone.

14. Jesus asks his disciples not to judge the others: “Do not judge and you will not be judged.” (Mt 7, 1). We are talking about the due respect to the others, not of a grave case in the community that of course must be judged (1 Co 5, 12). The disciple should not put his finger in the eye of the others: “Hypocrite, take first the plank out of your own eye, then you will see clear enough to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (7, 5). Jesus rejects the prayer of those who believe themselves righteous and they despise the rest; on the other hand, he embraces the prayer of the publican (Lk 18, 9-14). It is good to talk with the heart in the hand, and it also is good to watch the thrust of the own heart, from where bad intentions come out (Mk 7, 21-23). God, who is love, is the model (1 Jn 4, 8). Saint Paul says it: “why do you criticize your brother or sister? And you, why do you despise them?” (Rm 14, 10). The disciples must reciprocally embrace themselves (Rm 15, 7). That “who still is weak in the faith” must be specially embraced. (Rm 14, 1).Fraternal love is fundamental (Jn 15, 12). It is the product of the grape, the good wine, not the vinegar. The community means communion.

15. A permanent situation of tension may require separation. It may take place in the marriage (1 Co 7, 10), in the mission too (Acts 15, 36 – 41). In case of conflict, mediation is indicated. As Paul says: “Is there not even one among you wise enough to be the arbiter among believers?” (1 Co 6, 5). And also: “Any charge must be decided upon by the declaration of two or three witnesses.” (2 Co 13, 1).

16. Invitation to forgiveness does not avoid to confirm other situations that also mean relationship problems: the opposition of relatives and scribes (Mk 4, 20 – 30), the division that takes place because of the Gospel (Lk 12, 51), the abandonment of those who judge very hard the language (Jn 13, 24 – 30), the idleness of those who don’t want to work (2 Ts 3, 10), the darnel that sows the adversary (Mt 13, 24 – 30), the betrayal of one of the twelve (Lk 22, 21 – 23), the cross placed on Jesus (23, 33-34)

17. Before an immoral case Saint Paul gives this orientation: “When I wrote you in my letter to you to do not relate with the impure people, I did not refer to the impure people of this world… If so, you would be oblige to get out of this world. No! I wrote you not to relate with that who, calling himself brother, he is impure, stingy, idolater, outrageous, drunk or thief. With those not even to eat!. Since, why am I going to judge those outside? Is it not to those inside the ones that you judge? Let God judge those outside, but as for you, drive out the wicked person from among you.!” (1 Co 5, 9 – 13).  

18. The Gospel is announced like good news: Fortunate, blessed, happy!, says Jesus. And so, up to nine times (Mt 5, 3 – 11). The Gospel accomplishes the law and the prophets (5, 17), it overcomes the justice of scribes and Pharisees (5, 20), it maintains this tension: “You have heard that it was said to our people in the past, but now I tell you” (5, 21 – 48). It is not for a few that go away from the world, but for many that are able to transform it. In a special way, it is for the community that finds its own identity in the Gospel. And it is for the world that, with that salt, needs to be preserved from corruption and, with that light, needs to be liberated from darkness: “You are the salt of the earth”, “you are the light of the world” (5, 13 – 14).

19. The Gospel not only assumes the Decalogue, it takes it to its summit. You not only “shall not have another gods” (Ex 20, 3), but you “shall seek above all the kingdom of God and its justice” (Mt 6, 33). You not only “shall not swear in false” (Ex 20 7), but you “shall not swear in any way” (Mt 5, 33 – 34). You not only “shall keep the Sabbath”  (Ex 20, 8), but you “the Sabbath was made for man” (Mk 2, 27), you shall be fed with “the bread of life” (Jn 6, 35 – 51). You not only “shall honour your father and your mother” (Ex 20, 12), but “ all those who listen God´s word and accomplish it” shall be your family (Lk 8, 21). You not only “shall not kill” (Ex 20, 13), but you “shall love the enemy” (Mt 5, 43 – 46). You not only “shall not commit adultery” (Ex 20,14; see Sir 41, 17; Ex 20, 17), but you “shall be faithful with all your heart” (Mt 5, 27 – 30). You not only “shall not steal” (Ex 20, 15), but you “shall share your goods” (Lk 19, 8-10). You not only “shall not deliver false testimony against your neighbour” (Ex 20, 16; see Pr 12, 22), but you “shall excuse and forgive” (Mt 19, 21-22). The whole Law and the Prophets are founded on these two commandments: Love to God and to the neighbour.” (Mt 22, 40)

*Dialogue: How do we confront communion problems that take place in the community?

Hits: 1952