RESOLVING CONFLICTS WITHIN THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 1 COR 6:1-11; LK 6:12-19 ]
In any community, including Christian communities, there will always be personal differences in views and perspectives. Some conflicts happen because of the failures and weaknesses of fellow Christians. This is expected because not all are of the same spiritual depth of holiness in Christian life and the practice of Christian virtues. Not all live the life of Christ as they should. Not all are so forgiving and tolerant. Not all are humble and self-giving. Many who profess to be Christians are far from what they should be.
Of course, as Christians, we are supposed to have found Christ as the Light, the Truth and the Life. We are required to walk in truth and love, in compassion and forgiveness. What do we do when a fellow Christian does not walk in righteousness? How do we deal with difficult, weak, self-centered, vindictive, opinionated and arrogant members of our community? The rule of thumb given by St Paul is that we should never take up a lawsuit against our fellow Christians. It is unthinkable that a fellow Christian would bring another Christian to a secular civil court to find justice. Why?
Firstly, Christians should not behave as such. He said, “It is bad enough for you to have lawsuits at all against one another: oughtn’t you to let yourselves be wronged, and let yourselves be cheated? But you are doing the wronging and the cheating, and to your own brothers.” Indeed, if we are Christians and not living the Christ-like life, then we cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. We are only Christians in name, not in fact. He wrote, “You know perfectly well that people who do wrong will not inherit the kingdom of God: people of immoral lives, idolaters, adulterers, catamites, sodomites, thieves, usurers, drunkards, slanderers and swindlers will never inherit the kingdom of God.”
Secondly, to go to the civil court to find justice is to surrender our values to the world. We are indirectly saying that the justice of the court is the justice of Christ and the gospel. The truth is that human laws are enacted by man, by the parliament and executed by the courts. Not all legislations of Parliament are wise and true. Many countries in the world, because of pressure from society, formulate unwise if not harmful laws for their citizens. Some countries permit abortion, euthanasia, cloning, death penalty etc. Some of these laws are against the values of the gospel. So to turn to the world for judgement is to deny that we have the truth. This is why St Paul said, “How dare one of your members take up a complaint against another in the law courts of the unjust instead of before the saints? As you know, it is the saints who are to ‘judge the world’; and if the world is to be judged by you, how can you be unfit to judge trifling cases? Since we are also to judge angels, it follows that we can judge matters of everyday life; but when you have had cases of that kind, the people you appointed to try them were not even respected in the Church.”
Thirdly, Christian justice is unlike human justice, which is based on revenge, the principle of an eye for an eye. Christian justice goes beyond retribution and punishment. The heart of Christian justice is compassion, mercy and forgiveness. A Christian does not take revenge but conquers the hatred of his enemy by love and mercy. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. (Mt 5:38-42)
Fourthly, Christian justice is not reducible to justice in this life but in the world to come. It is the salvation of the soul and not just of the body. What is even more important than seeking earthly justice is to be concerned about saving the soul. Our enemies, slanderers and cheaters are ignorant and hurting themselves as much as they hurt others. We were also once like that. St Paul reminded us, “These are the sort of people some of you were once, but now you have been washed clean, and sanctified, and justified through the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and through the Spirit of our God.” St Peter exhorted the Christians who were undergoing trials, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (cf 1 Pt 1:6-9)
Fifthly, when we go to a civil court, it is like washing dirty linen in public. Do we announce to the whole world our domestic problems? Do we let the world know our family issues and struggles? So, too, the Church is the family of God. When we take our problems to the world to decide for us, we become a laughing stock in the world. Not only will those who are concerned lose their credibility as Christians but the whole Church is belittled and humiliated by the publicity given to the quarrels among Christians. Instead of the Church becoming a light of truth and love in the world, we become counter witnesses. We cause unbelievers to lose faith in us and reduce us to just any other human organization. Instead of focusing on the Church’s mission, we are focused on our problems.
How do we avoid this scandalous situation? We need to resolve our problems within our community and among ourselves. St Paul advised, “You should be ashamed: is there really not one reliable man among you to settle differences between brothers and so one brother brings a court case against another in front of unbelievers?” We must therefore look for mature leaders in our Christian community to do the work of meditation. Moses heeded the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro who said to him, “You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you.” (Ex 18:21f cf Ex 18:13-20)
Secondly, we need to pray for discernment as Jesus did. “Jesus went out into the hills to pray; and he spent the whole night in prayer to God.” Mature leaders need time out to pray and be in solitude so that they can judge wisely and according to the mind of God. We need to pray for good leaders to resolve conflicts and to lead the way in Christian discipleship. It was after a night of prayer that Jesus “summoned his disciples and picked out twelve of them; he called them ‘apostles’.” It is significant that the choice of the leaders were not according to worldly standards. His criteria for leadership were so unlike that of the world. They were a diverse group of people who all had their own peculiar views and interests. But Jesus purposely chose the Twelve who were diverse in character, ideology, temperament and personality to teach us how to live and work together in unity.
What is the key to resolving all personal conflicts at the end of the day? It is to be focused on our mission. Upon coming down from the mountain, “a great crowd of people from all parts of Judaea and from Jerusalem and from the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon who had come to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. People tormented by unclean spirits were also cured, and everyone in the crowd was trying to touch him because power came out of him that cured them all.” For the sake of the mission and our common love for Jesus and the Church, we should be willing to let go of all personal differences and hurts. This is provided, we place the glory of God and His kingdom and His Church before all else.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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