Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. USCCB approved (http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations)
“If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.” Rebuking others does not enjoy a good name in our society. It offends our sense of decency and autonomy as well as our regard for the autonomy of others. It is socially acceptable to complain about offensive conduct, or to avoid contact with the perpetrators. But to confront someone over his behavior, to rebuke him for his sins, would be intolerably uncomfortable. Our good manners will not suffer it.
But who are my real friends? In truth, they are those who, employing the appropriate measures of kindness and tact that good manners also cultivate, warn me when I stray from the right path and keep me accountable for my actions. The key word in “if your brother sins” is “brother.” This is how the early Christians referred to themselves: as fellow members of God’s family, who cared enough for one another’s souls to risk discomfort and embarrassment. Obviously this cannot be done in every case or with all people; as Augustine says in The City of God, there are good reasons to refrain from rebuking someone. But he also says that we often do so from fear of threatening our earthly interests. These interests, however legitimate, cannot compare to heavenly ones-our own and our brother’s.
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.” When we are confronted with our failings, anger and denial are common reactions, but at other times we see the truth and repent. These are blessed moments, above all when they lead to our sacramental cleansing in Confession. Yet the process of repentance is only complete when we are reconciled to God and man both. What an awesome and terrible power of binding and losing we have in forgiving or refusing to forgive others! What joy and peace we can bestow; what bitterness and sorrow we can enjoin! Do not wait until your brother seeks your forgiveness. Ask God for the grace to forgive him now, so that when he comes asking you may set him free.
—Sam Conedera, S.J.
Lord, nearly everyone has been hurt by the actions or words of another. These wounds can leave us with lasting feelings of anger, bitterness or even vengeance. Lord, to follow you is to choose forgiveness. And though the act that hurt or offended us might always remain a part of our lives, forgiveness can lessen its grip and help us focus on the positive parts of our lives. And while forgiveness doesn’t mean we minimize or justify the wrong, we trust, Lord, that by embracing forgiveness, you will grace us with peace, hope, gratitude and joy.
—The Jesuit Prayer Team