This Gospel could be titled: DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS. Let’s begin by recognizing we have different patterns for dealing with conflict; patterns that we have developed over a lifetime. (And, for some of us that’s a right long time.) Without a doubt, we bring these patterns with us into community living. Thankfully we live in a community whose individual members pay high respect to their vow of conversatio (conversion of life). Each and every day dawns with an opportunity for growth and maturity.
What are the patterns of dealing with conflict? It’s good to know your own style as well as that of the person with whom you may be in conflict. Are you, or the other person a turtle? Turtles hide from conflict by withdrawing into their shells and you can’t get them out until the conflict is over.
Some people are sharks. Sharks look for conflict. They seem to argue for the sake of a good argument. Sharks try to overpower their opponents in order to win in the midst of conflict. They play “one-upmanship.”
The opposite of sharks are Teddy Bears. Teddy Bears want to hug and say, “Why can’t we all just get along? Say a prayer and go to bed; all will be forgotten in the morning.”
Some people are foxes. Foxes are sly. They try to outsmart a situation in order to get the best possible solution for themselves.
Finally, some people are owls. Owls are wise. They do not try to overpower the other, nor do they try to avoid conflict. Rather, owls want to work through conflict to achieve a win-win resolution.
Turtles, sharks, teddy bears, foxes, and owls (oh my!) are animals that are in your families, in your workplace, and I suspect right right here in our community.
In this Gospel lesson Matthew offers us Jesus’ teaching on how to deal with conflict. He says: “If your sister offends you, go and show her her fault, just between the two of you.” Jesus is talking about being discrete. If your Sister listens to you, you have gained a sister. Notice, Jesus addresses, not the wrong-doer but those who have been wronged. He places the burden for reconciliation on the shoulders of the one who has been hurt, offended, or sinned against. It’s so simple that you have to wonder why conflict is such a big part of our lives. Jesus says: just go and talk with her. But this is so opposite to our human nature that most people will not do this. Rather, when someone does us wrong the tendency may be to get angry and pout and to avoid them. We will talk to everyone around the situation except the person that we need to talk to in order to resolve the situation. Jesus said, Talk to the person – don’t put up a sign, talk in generalities, or to your best friend. If the person listens, then you have gained a brother or a sister. And, what if they don’t listen? What if they don’t want to work things out?
Then you go to step two. Now, in our Holy Rule, Benedict provides a variation between Step One and Two. “The prioress sends a mature and wise member, who under the cloak of secrecy, may support the wavering sister, urge her to be humble as a way of making satisfaction, and console her lest she be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”
Jesus’ Step 2 continues: “If the person who has offended you will not listen, take one or two others along as witnesses.” Why do this? Sometimes it helps to have a person to act as an echo; to say what she’s heard without interpretation, just the words spoken. Remember the saying: there are three sides to any situation: your side, my side and the truth! Or as our mothers used to say: God’s side. Jesus said: “…if the person refuses to listen, treat her as you would a tax collector” i.e. like Jesus treated Zacchaeus: “Come down from your tree and let’s go eat.”
Jesus seems to be saying, if you go through this process, if you make the approach, talk one on one, if you take it to the community, and someone still refuses to resolve the conflict, then you need to pray for them, reach out to them, and offer them peace.
Know that you can overcome your natural response to conflict whether you are a turtle, shark, teddy bear, fox, or owl. You can train yourself, with God’s help, to act with strength, diplomacy and grace to confront directly one on one with gentleness. There is a current TV ad that sounds Benedictine: “Make an effort to be profoundly helpful!” Let us pray for gentleness and a spirit of helpfulness with each other, gentleness in our thoughts, in our tone of voice and in our actions.
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
Pray for safety from storms – that storms stay out over open waters.
Pray, in particular on Monday, September 11, peace among the peoples of our world.