The Season after Pentecost: Proper 18, Year A

Conflict and Forgiveness

  • Exodus 12:1-14
  • Psalm 149
  • Romans 13:8-14
  • Matthew 18:15-20

Conflict is a part of relationships and life in community. We live in a world of conflict, just as Jesus and his followers did. At the center of any community is the question of who or what binds the community together. Jesus makes it clear that it is he, his presence, his person, his ministry, that is the connective tissue with the community. As Christian disciples, by virtue of our baptism, we have a responsibility to confront the evil that we see in ourselves, in one another, and in our society. And sometimes this causes conflict. The need for safe communities to be open about our disagreements is a core ingredient to a healthy group or congregation. On the other side of confrontation is forgiveness. We should not confront to destroy another person. We should confront to lead a person into a deeper relationship with God and with neighbor.

Deliverance from slavery and sin are themes that are shared between the Old Testament story from Exodus and today’s Gospel. The flow of the exodus story (the plagues in Egypt) is interrupted by Israel’s remembrance of its deliverance from slavery in Egypt by celebrating the festival of the Passover. The early church described the Lord’s Supper using imagery from the Passover, especially in portraying Jesus as the lamb who delivers God’s people from sin and death. At the Great Vigil of Easter (BCP 285-292) each year, we tell our salvation story to help us remember our deliverance from sin and death through Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ words in today’s gospel are often used in situations having to do with church discipline. The Disciplinary Rubrics (BCP 409) set forth guidelines for church discipline based on these passages. Paul reminds the Roman church that moral living, alertness, and expressing love to one another is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Christ. By “putting on” clothing (habits and attributes) of Jesus, we are able to live in light of the future God has in store for us.

We have seen how the truth of Jesus’ presence can prevail in times of conflict:

  • Simon Wiesenthal tells the true story of being a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp and being summoned to the bedside of a dying SS soldier who seeks forgiveness from Wiesenthal, a Jew, for his participation in the murder of a family and small child. (The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness, Random House, 1998).
  • Desmond Tutu shares in No Future Without Forgiveness (Random House, 1999) how the public confession of the crimes committed in post-apartheid South Africa was the only thing that would make a communal future possible. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was instrumental is seeing this come to fruition.

For reflection:

  • What conflicts (globally, locally, or personally) can you name that have seen reconciliation between people?
  • What did it take to achieve forgiveness?
  • Where does the need for reconciliation and forgiveness in our world still exist?
  • What can one person, let along a group of people, do?
Lord of the church, you call a broken people around your table: in times of disagreement teach us to listen, loose us from prejudice and bind us to your way of forgiving grace; through Jesus Christ, who stands at the heart of our gathering. Amen. From “Prayers for an Inclusive Church by Steven Shakespeare (Church Publishing, 2009) p. 35.  

About Sharon Ely Pearson

Editor and Christian Formation Specialist for Church Publishing Incorporated
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