Who hasn’t experienced it in their relationships? You want to reach out to someone you love when he is struggling, so you go out of your way to help, only to have every attempt of assistance rebuffed. You try again…nothing. Taking Jesus’ advice (Matthew 18:15-20), you ask another who also loves the person to go with you…still no response. You go the additional step and take it to the community, only to be met by your friend’s denial and accusation that you are judging them!
Do you want to give up? Do hear those around you saying, “Forget it. he’ll never change.” It doesn’t help in these moments to hear Jesus say in the Gospel, “If he refuses to listen even to the church (community), then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”
There you go; you’re off the hook. Jesus just said write ‘em off…or did he?
“Treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector” (18:17).
Although it is true, the observant Jews of Jesus’ day avoided all interaction with Gentiles and tax collectors – and Matthew’s primary audience was Jewish Christians – we have to take it a bit further and look at examples of how Jesus himself dealt with those outside the cultural norm:
- Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant (Matthew 8:5-13).
- Jesus healed the Canaanite Woman’s daughter (Matthew 15:21-28).
- Jesus called Matthew the tax collector to be one of his ‘inner circle’ (Matthew 9:9-13).
If Jesus crossed the lines and helped these classes of people, what is he asking of us, then?
It is no accident that Jesus goes on to speak of prayer (18:18-20). You have an obstinate friend that will not listen to reason? Pray. When all else is exhausted, we always have recourse to pray for the person. This is where our Christian duty lies.
This is also why we need to be careful in using the word, “Never”; it is an expression of hopelessness. It is giving up. To say, ‘never,’ is to write off the person. If we were to write off for good those obstinate souls, it would be the same as saying there is no hope for them. It may seem from our perspective, that a person is “too far gone” to be brought back. Thank goodness the saints understood, we always have hope in our prayer, but, we have to be willing to persevere in it.
Imagine what our world would be like if, for instance, Saint Monica gave up on her prayers for her son, Augustine (an intention she prayed for 30 years)? Or perhaps, we can take heart in the wisdom of another great praying saint, Catherine of Siena:
You must never turn back for anything at all…For often during the time scheduled for prayer the devil comes with all sorts of struggles and annoyances – even more than when you are not at prayer. He does this to make you weary of holy prayer. Often he will say, ‘This sort of prayer is worthless to you. You should not think about or pay attention to anything except vocal prayer.’ He makes it seem this way so that you will become weary and confused, and abandon the exercise of prayer. But prayer is a weapon with which you can defend yourself against every enemy. If you hold it with love’s hand and the arm of free choice, this weapon, with the light of most holy faith, will be your defense.
~ St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, 65
We find the key to our perseverance like that of the saints summed up in the letter of Saint Paul to the Romans, “Brothers and sisters: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another…Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8,10). By our love for others, especially those who are far from us, we witness our belonging to Christ – in our love. And, when we unite our love with others in prayer for wandering souls, we will find Jesus himself in our midst praying with us (Matthew 18:20).
It is here, in our faith and hope that the Lord hears our prayers, we find a desire to persevere in supplication for those in most need of God’s mercy. May in this hope, we refrain from thinking the word, ‘never,’ recalling to ourselves the words of Jesus: “For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
On perseverance in prayer, by Saint Alphonsus de Liguori