Check Your Intention Before Correcting Your Neighbor

Jijo Kandamkulathy, CMF

Claretian Publications, Macau


Mt 18:15-20

Today we are invited to reflect on Jesus’ recommendations on how to recover the ones who have failed or become lost. Jesus says, “Your Father in heaven doesn’t want even one of these little ones to perish.” It is up to the shepherd, of course, to search for the sheep that is lost, wounded, and in risk of falling in a very deep and dark ravine. However, every Christian is a shepherd of their sister and brother. No one can say like Cain: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

The law of love requires a commitment to bring the brother/sister onto the right path. But, how does one proceed in such a delicate issue? There is a mistake that must be avoided: gossiping, spreading news of the error. This is defamation. It serves only to marginalize the one who did wrong, to humiliate him/her. The truth about others spoken without any benefit is gossip. The truth that does not produce love but causes anxiety, creates dissension, hatred and resentment is better not spoken. One cannot tell everything that is true or everything one knows. One must, above all, refrain from disclosing a truth to those who want to use it for evil.

Let’s see what Jesus suggests to “tell the truth” to a brother/sister who is in danger of being lost. The path to follow is divided into three stages. First, one has to talk personally to the brother/sister, person to person, face to face. Everything must be resolved in secret, to prevent others from finding out what happened.

If this first attempt does not produce the desired result, the second step to take is to ask for help from one or two sensible and wise brothers/sisters of the community. Never forget the goal: the recovery of the brother/sister. One should never give the impression of cornering him/her or putting him/her in front of someone who looks for ways to condemn. S/he must perceive that s/he is dealing with friends who want her/his good and are willing to testify in front of the brothers/sisters of her/his good disposition.

The last stage is the recourse to the community. This can happen only when the sin committed risks disturbing the brothers and sisters, especially those who are weak in the faith. If so and the culprit does not want to amend, then s/he must be considered “as a heathen and as a publican.”

Taken literally, this is the recommendation that emerges from Jesus, who has just warned the disciples: “See that you do not despise any of these little ones” (v. 10). How is it possible that “the friend of publicans and sinners” (Mt 11:19) pronounces a very harsh judgment?

The responsibility entrusted to the Church is great. She is called to authentically declare what thoughts, feelings, and choices are in accordance with the gospel and which cause one to move away from Christ. She does not cast out, condemn nor punish anyone but only helps one to become aware of the condition in which everyone stands in taking certain decisions. To achieve this, result one should be clear that the measures taken against him/her are dictated only by love, not by the desire to “separate him/her” from a community that considers itself perfect.

(Indebted to Fr. Fernando Armellini SCJ. Image: