Think about what can happen when we don’t say something to a friend who hurt our feelings. The person’s unkindness festers inside us. We can’t shake it, can’t forget about it. We start keeping our distance from the person. Maybe we’re a little mean to them. Maybe we talk about them to others, telling our true friends what a jerk So-and-so is. Maybe we think we’re a better person than they are. And maybe all this time our friend has no idea how we feel, or worse, feels awful but can’t summon the courage to apologize.
Now imagine how that one broken moment affects the larger web of relationships. Some people take sides. They talk about who said what to whom. Rumors spring up until it’s hard to know what the original sin was. Some people want to drop it and move on, but the issue hovers in the air like a bad smell, like garbage someone forgot to empty. Outsiders, people who don’t know any of what’s going on, hold their nose and walk on by. They don’t want to be part of this stinky group.
It’s not only seventh-grade girls who get themselves into these situations: all of us find ourselves caught in such scenarios at one point or another. Jesus, well aware of this human predicament, gives us a procedure for avoiding them. The procedure is intended to heal relationships, restore peace in the community, and make the whole group appealing to outsiders.
The first step in the procedure is simply to tell our friend how hurt we are. Based on typical human behavior, however, you’d think the first step was either to say nothing at all or to tell everyone except our friend how hurt we are. Too often, rather than follow the procedure, we become part of the problem. We become a failed watchman, the person on the walls of the city who doesn’t blow the trumpet at the sight of an enemy’s advance, but who instead stares out angrily, whispering and pointing at the advancing doom. When that grim, approaching army of sin lays siege to our community, everyone will suffer, but it will ultimately be our fault. Our friend will still have sinned, but our own sin will be far greater.