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Assertive yet non-violent

Sunday, 04 September 2011 00:00

The Early Church wrestled with how to deal with Christians who had offended fellow Christians. Our Gospel today provides a four-stage process of fraternal correction within the local community. First, the aggrieved party is instructed to dialogue with the offender in private. If this private conversation does not settle differences, a witness is brought in. If the conflict remains unresolved, only then does the community intervene. When all else fails, the intransigent offender is ultimately excommunicated from the Church.

Two footnotes: the graduated process of involving more and more people to settle a conflict is motivated by charity. As much as possible, the matter is dealt with privately so as not to expose anyone to shame, also, so as not to demoralize the community with the ensuing conflict. Second, the threat of excommunication served as a motive for both parties to finally resolve the conflict, lest someone be expelled from the community.

Filipino non-confrontation. We have much to learn from the Early Church, for culturally, we evade directly dealing with the thorny issues and difficult persons in various ways: one, we keep our hurt to ourselves. We extend our patience further and further, expecting the other to read our minds and realize for himself the reason for our anger. Two, we engage in passive aggressive behaviour by giving the person the cold shoulder, and again, expecting the other to decipher the reason behind our silence and withdrawal. Or else, by putting the person down, by making biting remarks without explicitly conveying to the person the issue consuming us. Third, we resort to a go-between, a mediator who ends up being caught between two warring friends or family members.

Filipino aggression. Because of suppressing our anger and frustration, by the time we finally allow ourselves to ventilate our anger, we explode. Sadly, by then the anger we manifest is often no longer commensurate to the issue at hand. Over trivial matters, we become verbally abusive, aggravating the conflict and the mutual hurt. Over petty issues, we become physically violent because of the long history of pent-up frustration.

Jesus’ third way. Instead of evasion, on the one hand, and violent aggression, on the other, Jesus teaches us the way of non-violent confrontation. Upon his arrest, Jesus scolds Peter for having cut-off the ear of the servant of the high priest, “Put your sword back into its sheath, for whoever takes up the sword will perish by the sword (Mt. 26:52)”. We must clarify though that Jesus did not renounce anger as an emotion or as a behaviour in toto. Often he lambasted the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. Dramatically, in the cleansing of the Temple, he overturned the money-changers’ tables and set free the doves, perhaps as a sign of indignation over the exploitation of the poor devout Jews or as a prophetic sign of the destruction of the Temple. Jesus did not prohibit expressing anger, but rather the abusive and violent expression of such. Thus, the stern rebuke of Peter for taking up the sword.

While Jesus renounced physical violence to resolve situations of conflict and armed struggle to reverse oppression (he did not ally himself with the revolutionary Zealot movement to which the other disciple named Simon belonged), he also did not remain silent about the abuses and corrupt practices of slave-owners, money-lenders, and religious leaders. Jesus confronted thorny issues — gender discrimination, oppressive taxation of the poor, forced labour by the Roman soldier (which we do not have space to explain in detail), albeit in a non-violent manner.

Following in Jesus’ footsteps. For many of us Filipinos, to confront a difficult person, rather than to evade him or her, is difficult enough. Moreover, to confront assertively yet diplomatically instead of violently, whether verbally or physically, is even more difficult for many of us. We need to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to our Lord. We need to contemplate over his words and example. The Gospel reading’s four-stage process of fraternal corrections is the Early Church’s attempt to follow the way of Jesus — non-violent confrontation. We pray that the Gospel message might challenge our cultural views and practices about anger and resolving conflicts, renew us individually and collectively, and transform us into the image of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who assertively yet peacefully confronted the sin of the world.

Published: The Philippine Star

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