They had a conflict that lasted a millennium. It wasn’t constant war, nobody can sustain conflict without pause for very long, but their difference brought them to war off and on for a thousand years with no settlement in sight. France and Germany fought over a place called Alsace-Lorraine, mostly, and the territory has changed hands back and forth three times in the past 200 years. It was thought these two countries would always be adversaries, peace would never come to this area, and the two World Wars in the 20th Century seemed to validate this.
Yet after World War II there was a time of reconciliation, and for the past 50+ plus years these two countries have had a special relationship, working together as part of the European Union, and putting aside the conflicts of the past. There are threats of war in our world today, but not there. Reconciliation has taken place, and it’s holding.
As we look as today’s readings they speak of reconciliation. They do not paint a picture of passive acceptance: the first reading is very direct in its teaching. If your brother is doing something wrong and you don’t point it out to him, you are responsible for what happens to him. That’s pretty tough. Paul teaches that love is fulfillment of the Law. Many of us would be tempted to say that opposite, fulfillment of the law is love. The gospel reading is one that I think runs against human nature as I’ve seen it: when someone has done us wrong we don’t want to confront them, unless Jerry Springer is paying us to. We talk with everyone else in the world except the one who has hurt us. Jesus lays out a method of resolving problems that is fair and direct: you start with the individual, then you bring in two others, then you bring in the whole community, and then you cast them out.
Or do you cast them out? How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax collectors? He spoke with them. He ate with them. He reached out to heal them. He recognized their humanity when other teachers would have nothing to do with them. Just when we think we have an out after a long process, we don’t.
As we try to live as Christ taught us, living with one another is one of the greatest challenges there is. In the Screwtape Letters. C.S. .Lewis’s demon advises his charge to convert his human from Christianity by bringing him up close with other Christians and reminding him exactly who he is associating himself with and how he is called to treat them. When we are hurting, it is normal to want to take out our frustration on those who have harmed us rather than building bridges back. But what do we gain by doing it as Christ teaches us?
I think that what we gain is our self: our personal integrity and peace in our soul. Carrying offense takes a lot of energy, a lot of thought. Savoring pain wears on our soul, blots out whatever is good in our lives and keeps us from moving away from our past. It sours our relationships with others, because either we have to hide part of ourselves in order to protect people who are uninvolved or we have to lobby with them to recruit them to our side of the argument. We have to navigate carefully to give the offender a broad berth.
Christ calls us to honest, Christ calls us to honor, Christ calls us to healing. The reason for reconciliation is the same as existed in those years just after the great World Wars: to be able to put pain behind us and to live together in a finite space again in peace.