“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”

The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18:15-20

It is clear from a reading of this gospel message (Matthew 18:15-20) that the spirit of correction does not set out to scold and poke its nose into other people’s business. It must be done in a tactful and honorable way: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.”

Constructive criticism or correction sets out to win back a person, whose loss is grievously felt. It is the result of a genuine sense of caring for the other and of a strong sense of community that cannot bear to be adversely affected. The procedure that is advised in today’s gospel message is careful and clear.

First, try to settle the wrong privately, between the two of you. If that works, good.

Secondly, if that doesn’t work, call in a witness so that “the case may stand on the word of two or three witnesses”.

Thirdly, if this doesn’t work, refer the matter to the community or church.

Finally, if the person who has committed the wrong has no respect for the community “treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.” In other words, ignore him.

It is clear from today’s gospel that constructive correction, whether offered or received, must be anchored in love. It is the Christian’s business to walk with Christ and to put aside anything that smacks of selfishness. The sense of solidarity among the faithful bids us to pay attention to the self-destructive and anti-community choices of some members. Thus we must come to the aid of a weak member in the best way we know how. The gospel of today outlines the procedure, and that procedure is anchored in love.

Love is, therefore, practical. It does not float around in the air; it does not spend all day pondering noble thoughts and sentiments. Love grounds itself in action; it takes on the delicate business of constructive correction without resorting to vengeance or disinterested criticism.

As St. Francis of Sales beautifully remarked; “more can be achieved with a spoonful of honey than with a barrel of vinegar.”

Be tactful when you correct a brother or sister.

Fr. Hugh Duffy

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