If another disciple sins against you,” Jesus continued, “go and have it out, just between the two of you alone. If they listen to you, you’ve won back a brother or sister. But it they won’t listen, you should take with you one or two others, so that ‘everything may be established from the mouth of two or three witnesses.’ If they won’t listen to them, tell it to the assembly. And if they won’t listen to the assembly, you should treat such a person like you would a Gentile or tax collector. (18:15-17)
I am sick of gossip. Sick to death of it. I am sick of it happening in my classroom as students talk about other students right there on the other side of the room. I am sick of it when I see their parents doing the same at church or in a school hallway. I am sick of the hurt I see in people’s eyes when they realize people are talking about them, when they realize their “friends” are not trustworthy. I am sick of the paranoia that comes when whispers are followed by cackles. I am sick of the alienation it causes, and how we act like this is acceptable behavior amongst Christians. To be genuine, I am also sick when I find in me the very same salacious desire to be “in the know” on the latest tidbit.
Gossip is killing us and it needs to be stopped.
I guess that is why this passage above from today’s reading struck a nerve with me. Jesus proposes that we deal with conflict the exact opposite way we normally handle it.
Jesus encourages us to go quickly and privately to a brother or sister who has offended us in some specific way. Talk it out one-on-one. Don’t involve anyone else. Resolve it with “the one” and move on. If that strategy doesn’t work, invite only a “few” close friends who are a part of the conversation with the offender as well. Their presence still remains conciliatory; they are there to corroborate and help resolve, not throw fuel on the fire. Only as a last resort are large numbers of people involved. “The many” members of the assembly are called upon in the end, not for vindication but as one more attempt to forge reunion.
Jesus way of keeping matters private and only involving others if reconciliation cannot be reached privately seems to be opposite to the way we often do it in our social groups today, as the diagram above displays. We invert the whole process. We allow “many” people to know our business long before we ever talk to the person who has offended us. Maybe we want vindication or moral support or allies, so we tell others what has happened and they tell others and so forth. Then we pull in our “few” closest friends for “counsel,” which maybe more about getting up our nerve before we go and talk to the person who has done us wrong. This does seem like a smart move, but we still haven’t talked to “the one” and we are airing our dirty laundry for others. Last, and usually after several days or weeks have passed and far too many people have become involved, we finally go the one with whom we have an issue. But by this time so many eyes are watching, so many unkind words have been said, so much posturing and side-taking has happened that reconciliation is much, much harder. Reputations have been tarnished and perceptions have been formed.
My boss and friend has a simple, non-confrontational phrase she adds into conversations when it is clear people are going down the way of gossip rather than the way of Jesus: “What did he say when you talked to him?” That is a very gracious way to correct and redirect.
May we be the people who turn the triangle back on its base.