Non-coercive reconciliation
GOD’S WORD TODAY (The Philippine Star) - September 7, 2014 - 12:00am

Reconciliation is a two-way process that requires both parties, in relation to their share of wrongdoing, to admit guilt. Second, in relation to the hurt and harm each has caused, to apologize to the other. And third, in relation to their relationship, to desire to renew the friendship, although, at times, in a different form.

Unless both parties are willing to admit their respective shortcomings, to apologize, and to interact again, reconciliation is not possible.

On the other hand, forgiveness, while related to reconciliation, is a one-way process. It is my decision to make irrespective of the other’s disposition toward me or our relationship. I can admit guilt, apologize and extend my hand in friendship whether or not the other party is willing to do so. I can opt to treat the other with respect and charity even though he or she is unwilling to admit any wrongdoing. Moreover, the other cannot prevent me from choosing to forgive him or her if I am so moved by grace to be magnanimous. While reconciliation requires a mutual desire to restore the relationship, forgiveness is a personal decision each one makes, independent of the decision and disposition of the other.

However, if only one party is ready to forgive and willing to reconcile, he or she can only offer a hand in friendship and wait for the free response of the other. To coerce the other to reconcile despite his or her unwillingness or lack of readiness is to dishonor and do violence to the other. To truly respect the other is to recognize and accept the other’s capacity to turn down one’s good intentions and one’s offer of friendship.      

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Our Gospel reading today is the only other Gospel passage where Jesus explicitly mentions the church. Biblical scholars explain that unity and reconciliation were pressing issues in the fledging Christian community to which Matthew belonged and wrote. The three-step process of reconciling with one’s brother or sister explained in our Gospel reading today was projected back to Jesus’ time, the details of the process placed in the mouth of the Lord.

That the early Christian churches contended with conflict within the community is no different from our experience of being Church today. The recommended process of trying to settle disputes privately, before bringing in a few others to mediate, and as a last resort, the community to adjudicate, is full of wisdom and very much applicable today.

Alas, because we as a people are non-confrontational, not accustomed to face-to-face dialogues with persons with whom we are at odds, we often make known to everyone else our ill-feelings about someone except the person involved. We ventilate to others without attempting to resolve our differences with the person concerned. We Filipinos have much to learn in applying the Gospel reading’s instruction on settling disputes and reconciling with one another.

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Finally, the three-part process of reconciliation depicts the labored attempts of a Christian to make peace with his brother or sister. He exhausts all means because of his great desire to heal and restore his friendship with his fellow Christian.

Perhaps this process of reconciliation is reflective of our indefatigable God who desperately seeks reconciliation and intimacy with us who have offended and have turned away from him. It is God who humbly seeks us and who unrelentingly exhausts all possible means in order to reestablish again and again friendship with us.

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