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“If your fellow human being sins against you yourself, go convince that person between you and that person alone. If that person may listen to you, you have won your fellow human being. If that person may not listen……..” Matthew 18: 15-20 
Someone once said that there are two certainties in life – death and taxes. Maybe you’ll agree with me that a third life certainty is conflict. Arguments, oppositions, claims, lawsuits - are everywhere. For example, every Jersey contract of employment must, by law, contain a dispute resolution statement, setting out a process for the resolution of workplace conflicts. 

How do you deal with the conflicts which arise for you – conflicts where no resolution method is specified? Do you have a plan?

Back in AD 30 Jesus was concerned that his followers would have a dispute resolution plan to follow. He definitely knew that conflicts were certain. “If your fellow human being sins against you yourself, go convince that person between you and that person alone.” How wise that is; how much more likely it is that a person, if no one else is around, will see reason.

‘A sin is two sins when it is defended.’ (Henry Smith, preacher and writer, 1560-1591)
Jesus’ second step was this. “If that person may not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be made to stand.” Take others with you so that everything can be confirmed – either way. Again, how wise that is. If I think another person has sinned against me, I need to have yet others to go with me to listen and to establish the facts. I may well be sadly wrong myself. 

Then Jesus had a third step. “If that person may refuse to listen to them, speak to the group.” If the first two fail, take the conflict to the group of people to whom you both belong. Ask the group to resolve the conflict. 

Then, finally, given the failure of the first three steps, Jesus still does not authorise any reprisals. “But if that person may also refuse to listen to the group, that person must be, for you personally, similar to a foreigner and a tax-farmer.” A foreigner? Yes, when you have dealings with that person assume nothing – take care. A tax-farmer? In Jesus’ day these were under contract to Rome (the occupying enemy) to collect taxes from their own people.  The allegiances of tax-farmers were complex – take care. The person who has sinned against me – maybe grievously – is not to be harmed.

What do you think of this process? At every stage, not only is the person who has sinned against me able to change but I have that opportunity also. He – and I - can ask for mercy. Others, respected by both of us, are adjudicators.   

But here’s the key issue. “Truly, I say to you all, if you together may tie any things on earth, those things shall be tied in the sky (singular) and if you together may untie any things on earth, those things shall be untied in the sky (singular).” The group conflict resolutions down here on earth are recorded and applied in future. 

I find that frightening. On several occasions I have seen a group decision (taken generally by a “committee” of people) and feared for each group member because the decision would be on the record (against them) in the sky. If there is group injustice or lack of mercy on earth, group members may individually experience injustice and lack of mercy.

‘As virtue is its own reward, so vice is its own punishment.’ (Anon.)
How wonderful that Jesus added “Again, truly, I say to you all that, if two of you may agree together on earth about any particular thing, if they ask, it will become so for them by this Father of mine in the skies (plural). For where two or three are come together in my own name, there I am in the centre of them.” 

It seems that Jesus distinguished between the sky and the skies. Will you join with me today to ask for conflict forgiveness for both of us – in the sky and, more important, in the skies?
Sinner Syvret

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