September 6th 2020

Reading: Matthew 18:15-20

How do you deal with criticism? I suspect the answer to that is that it depends. Most probably it depends on where the criticism is coming from, how it is given, what kind of mood you are in at the time, or how sensitive you are feeling about whatever is being critiqued.

In the passage we read today, Jesus gives advice on how to deal with criticism. Well, actually, the advice is about how to deal with those who we believe have wronged us, but the advice given would fit both categories.

First, Jesus tells us that that our differences ought to be dealt with privately. As children we are, hopefully, taught that it is better to deal face to face with the person who has wronged us rather than come tale telling. Of course, the exception to this is if someone s being bullied. Bullying is never acceptable, and children (and adults) must always feel safe enough to tell someone about what is going on, whether it is they who are being bullied or someone else as they have observed it.

Jesus is not talking about bullying here though. He is referring to the kind of disputes that arise between two people now and then and is encouraging us to deal with these differences at the time, privately, rather than letting things fester or by causing a scene.

Letting things fester is never a good idea because sooner or later the frustration and irritation will come to a head over something else which is relatively insignificant with more serious and lasting damage done to the relationship. I am sure that many of us can think of occasions when we have “lost the plot” over something quite small because it was the last straw. The person on the receiving end of our wrath can be left confused wondering how such a seemingly small thing can cause so great a reaction because they are simply not aware of how their previous actions have affected us.

So, we don’t want to let things fester and we need to address them as soon as possible after the event, partly so that we can calm down so as not to respond in anger, but also, partly so that we can think both the disagreement and our internal response to it through. A little time can help us to see things a little more objectively, including our own reaction to whatever the perceived wrong may be.

When we respond however, we should do so respectfully, approaching the person quietly and privately, irrespective of how they have treated us. Jesus always encourages his followers to have respect, not just for themselves but for the other too. We can never know what someone else may be dealing with personally which causes them to react in certain ways, but when we approach them privately it gives an opportunity for both parties to talk freely without fear of onlookers judging them or throwing their tuppence in. How I wish more people would follow this advice rather than rush in responding angrily to situations without fully knowing or understanding all the details.

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Matt. 18:15). It is not said, but implicit in this statement is that if we are the one being accused of something then we too have to listen to the complaint and consider its validity. When we are tired, or sensitive about the matter being criticized, we need to question ourselves first. Is this a valid complaint that is being made? It may be. Or it may be that there is a misunderstanding that has lead to the accusation which can be easily remedied by a simple conversation. Either way, we need to listen to one another and respond sensitively, be it in the making of a complaint, or in the receiving of it.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of talking and listening to one another. Jesus gives advice for what to do if either party refuses to listen to the other, but too often things escalate and become public, forcing or encouraging those not involved in the dispute to make judgements and take sides. Where there is no resolution privately, mediation may be the way forward. Only involve others who can be impartial and guide both parties forward.

On the back of a report on “Conflict in the Church”, submitted to the Church of Scotland General Assembly in 2008 and subsequently due to the generous support of the Church of Scotland Guild, The Place for Hope Project was launched. Over the years it has developed and become an important resource providing support, advice and training to people and groups of all faiths, not just within our own denomination. These days the “Place for Hope accompanies and equips people and faith communities so that all might reach their potential to be peacemakers who navigate conflict well” (Place for Hope Website)

Where conflict and disagreement seems insurmountable, we have access to this amazing facility which builds on the wise teaching of Jesus to resolve our differences in order to live peacefully with one another. May God guide us all through the tensions and frictions of life, that we may not just utter the words of Jesus but learn to live them to the full.

Prayer

Make me a channel of your peace,

Where there is hatred let me bring your love,

Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord:

And where there's doubt, true faith in you.

Make me a channel of your peace.

Where there's despair in life let me bring hope.

Where there is darkness, only light,

And where there's sadness, ever joy.

O, Master, grant that I may never seek

So much to be consoled as to console.

To be understood as to understand,

To be loved, as to love with all my soul!

Make me a channel of your peace.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

In giving to all men that we receive,

And in dying that we're born to eternal life. Amen

(Attributed to St Francis of Assisi, adapted by Sebastian Temple)

To listen to Let There be Peace on Earth sung by Voices without Borders click on the link below:

Let There be Peace on Earth