In today's Gospel, Jesus gives us some practical advice about how to settle our differences. How do we go about trying to resolve the differences in our lives : differences in our marriage, differences in our work place, even differences in our community here at Jesus Our Shepherd?
During my years as a high-school instructor, I joined the teachers' negotiating team as we tried to settle a variety of issues relating to our master contract with the School Board. Across from us at the table sat Board members. For far too long, we had little love for each other, even little respect for each other : teachers and Board members alike. The negotiations went badly. There was a lot of anger and resentment on both sides of that table. Cooperation was non-existent. Things got even worse when the Board hired a union-busting attorney to lead their negotiations. That of course simply made matters worse; I left those meetings headachy and frustrated.
This continued for a number of years until new Board members were elected. These new Board members to their credit adopted a win/win approach to the negotiations process. Before, no one wanted to be on the losing side. Now, there was no losing side. It took awhile for us all to catch on to the dynamics of the process, but it worked : it actually worked! We learned to respect each other and avoid the negativity that had sabotaged previous meetings; and we learned to prioritize our needs and make necessary compromises amicably on both sides of the table.
In today's Gospel, Jesus explains precisely how we Christians should go about resolving differences in our faith community. First, Jesus says, if we have a problem, we need to bring it to the attention of the right person, the one we perceive as responsible for the problem, and I hope that is not always going to be Anna & Frank! If we approach each other in a reasonable and charitable manner, the problem may well be solved at this first step. This avoids the constant grumbling that makes matters worse and never leads to a solution.
If this first step doesn't work (and sometimes it wont!) the second step Jesus invites us to use is this: we should find out whether or not some others in the community also perceive it to be a problem. If I'm the only one who thinks something is a problem, the problem might just be me! But if others also see it as a problem, then there's more incentive to bring it back to the responsible person's attention; and he or she will be more likely to re-evaluate and correct the situation. After all, there is strength in numbers!
Finally, the third step : just in case the first two don't work: Jesus tells us to get the whole church involved! This means the full community! If something is bothering you about the way things are done here, bring the matter to our monthly meetings. Tell the community how you feel, and why you feel as you do. (By the way, we're having a meeting today immediately after Mass!) You may find there's already a strong feeling supporting you within the community : or not! We've lost parishioners in the past because they didn't take the steps that Jesus offers us in today' Gospel : they remained silent and just walked away. Individuals who had a complaint never brought it to anyone's attention. Imagine what our lives would be like if, back when the church was just beginning, Paul hadn't confronted Peter on the issue of how to deal with Gentiles converting to the movement that Rabbi Jesus started. Peter might well have prevailed and today all Christian males would be circumcised, and we'd all be attending synagogues instead of churches, observing Rosh Hoshana and Yom Kippur as our major feast days, and eating a steady diet of kosher food!
Here at Jesus Our Shepherd, you are the church! Your voice matters. This community is a democracy because the Spirit works through each of you through the grace of Baptism. Keeping silent on issues of importance is NOT an option. If something bothers you about the way we do things, bring it to the attention of the responsible person. Some time ago, some of you called attention to the fact that the priests' homilies were often negative and critical, not reflecting the Good News of Jesus Christ; you also reported we were spending too much time promoting the fact that we on staff here are married priests, not celibate. We've honestly tried to correct this. Some people think homilies of women priests should not be directed to promoting women's ordination as such but rather to promoting the full Gospel message of Jesus.
My point is simple: without appropriate feedback and discussion, our community problems will never be settled, and resentment and frustration will overwhelm us, just like they overwhelmed me at the negotiating table. We can do better! We can start by doing what Jesus calls us to do in today's Gospel: (1) bring the matter to the attention of the responsible person, (2) see if others feel as we do, and (3) involve the entire community if necessary. I'm convinced that this community is worth your time and effort! I hope you are too!