Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Conflict Resolution

Matthew 18:15-35
Reproving Another Who Sins
“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Conflict Resolution is fairly common-place work at large in the church today - or not!
It is generally recognised that many congregations can be places of conflict and more and more denominations are devising ways to handle conflict.
The church, composed of human beings, is no less prone to disagreement and difference of opinion than any other organisation or work place.
There are, of course, places where folk refuse to confront conflict or deny that it exists in their locale.
In such places, resentment forms, people become isolated or choose to move on and underlying issues are never resolved.
But, where a choice is made to handle conflict, there is much to be gained, not least the advent of a healthy community.
Jesus' words in Matthew's gospel provide a perfect framework for conflict resolution where the conflict is between individuals.
As a first step, Jesus insists, conversation should always be between those directly involved.
In these days of instant communication and social networking, this step is often bypassed to our cost.
It is so easy to copy someone else into an email or to make accusations on a public forum and, before we know it, lines have been crossed and damage has been done that cannot be undone.
So the first step that Jesus outlines about confronting the one who has wronged us in private is sound advice. It is always possible for reconciliation to be that simple, arising from one conversation when misunderstandings can be rectified and other perspectives shared.
When that first step does not achieve reconciliation, Jesus suggests inviting others to be a part of the conversation. It is possible that another opinion might shed light on the nature of the conflict and on a possible way forward.
Jesus is at pains to point out that listening is a huge part of dealing with conflict. All steps in the process involve parties listening to each other.
Where conflict resolution is not achieved successfully, the casting out from community that Jesus prescribes seems pretty brutal. 
To be described as a Gentile or a Tax Collector was not only a huge insult but pointed to isolation and ostracisation, not something prescribed lightly.
In church communities and in workplaces all over the world, conflict resolution is based knowingly or unknowingly on this model that Jesus sets out.
Perhaps what is different in the church is that, as a place where hope thrives, we have more zeal for resolving conflict and achieving peace and can model such hope and peace for the communities in which we serve and to which we witness.
Jesus sets out that hope right at the beginning of this passage, when he speaks of the purpose of adopting such a procedure to tackle one who has sinned - it is to repair and regain the relationship.
There is also great hope - and great trust placed in us by God to take the necessary steps to bring about reconciliation. God trusts us to go about this properly. So much so, that, when reconciliation is not possible, we are given the authority to call time on the procedure. That responsibility is ours, to bind or to loose - a measure of God's love and God's trust, beautifully illustrated in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant. The scene portrayed in that parable is one played out in Christian communities every day. We, who have been forgiven much are often less generous to our brothers and sisters. And, because we know the love of God, our failing to proffer forgiveness to others is all the more shocking and, rightly, carries a higher penalty. This ancient teaching speaks all too poignantly into our lives today and into the lives of the communities we serve,  
(Written for Spill the Beans, issue 15)Spill the beans

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