Reconciliation – 1977
by Josefina de Vasconcellos
October 26 1904 - July 20 2005
Josefina de Vasconcellos died at the age of 100, she was a gifted musician, composer, poet, dancer and inventor - but much more than any of these, she was a figurative sculptor with a strong religious faith. In London, her work has been on show at the Royal Academy and St Paul's Cathedral; a set of life-sized Nativity figures for St Martin-in-the-Fields as well as other churches around the country. A Londoner herself, Josefina was born to an English Quaker mother and an atheist Brazilian diplomat father. In 1930 she married Delmar Banner, the painter, academic and Anglican lay preacher, they remained together until his death in 1983.
Her sculpture, Reunion, for the faculty of peace studies at Bradford University was later renamed Reconciliation to mark the 50th Anniversary of VJ Day, with casts going to the old Coventry Cathedral, Hiroshima Peace Park, Japan, the grounds of Stormont Castle, Belfast, and to a site on remains of the Berlin Wall.
Matthew 18: 15-20
If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If you are listened to, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If that person refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
This passage comes from the fourth great sermon in Matthew’s gospel. It deals with instructions about life in community. The community that Matthew has in mind is certainly the small group that reunites every Sunday for the Eucharist and that forms a local church. We can note from the start, a realism with Jesus; the church is not made up of saints, but of sinners. Jesus is very clear, that Christians are not better than others. The Church is comprised of men and women just as fragile as the rest of worldly society. We can see in this passage that Jesus doesn’t dream of a Church without problems.
If your brother or sister sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If you are listened to, you have regained that one.
These words show us the attitude of Jesus, he acts out of love not out of judgment. There are unfortunately those who want to get involved in every disagreement to teach others a lesson, with a critical attitude, they condemned and burden the sinner. Everything in the gospel tells us exactly the opposite of this. The setting for this community discourse, is one of grace and mercy toward the other.
Just before this section, Jesus recounted the parable of the lost sheep. See that you do not despise one of these little ones… (Matt 18:10-14) Be like the shepherd, who has lost a sheep, he runs in search of it. The passage coming immediately after is the text is about fraternal correction where Jesus asks Peter to forgive seventy-times seven times (Matt 18:21-22). Jesus will also condemn the attitude of the ruthless servant with no heart, who will not forgive the debt of his companion (Matt 18:23-25). So, it is only in a spirit of love and compassion that we should intervene. We have no right to judge a brother or sister who we love. The whole gospel cries out to us that Jesus was good to sinners.
We can sense, in these words, that Jesus would like this to be the solution to conflicts. When one gains a brother or sister, heaven descends to earth, what joy in such a solution!
But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
Jesus progresses with great finesse. First face to face with discretion, so that the evil remains unknown if possible, and that the culprit can keep their reputation and honour. Only afterwards, calling on others, this to avoid judgments that are too subjective, where one could have made the wrong assessment… With others, together, it may be easier to find arguments that are more convincing. Everything must be done to avoid haste and whim. It’s only after having exhausted all forms of council, that we may have to make a painfully decision.
If that person refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church, and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a gentile and a tax collector.
This formula is a bit shocking, especially from He who is called, the friend of publicans and sinners (Matt 11:19). The harshness of this condemnation can only be explained precisely because everything was tried to save the brother or sister. One can even say that it is the brother or sister who has excluded themselves from the community by their repeated refusals. He or she has pushed away the hand offered to him or her. After having given all chances, patiently, the community finds itself powerless before this brother or sister.
We must add, at the same time, in such ultimate cases, we are not discharged from loving this sinner, as we must love even our enemies (Matt 5:43.48).
Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
The advice we’ve heard so far is part of basic psychological principles, valid for all human relationships. Jesus now adds a theological aspect. He reveals a hidden mystery. God is present in this attempt to rescue the brother or sister, heaven is concerned with what is happening on earth.
The will of God is that no sheep is lost. Fraternal correction becomes a way of mercy, even for God. It’s clear that many men/women will discover heaven’s forgiveness (God’s) only if they discover brothers & sisters on earth , by practicing an attitude of love. The Church is a community where each is responsible for the life of faith of their brothers and sisters.
More often it seems we are cowards and disinterested in the faith of others.
Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.
Jesus takes up his formula, “I tell you...” which often indicates a revelation, a mystery of faith, something hidden from human observation. He also takes up the theme of the correspondence between earth and heaven again.
Should we despair when we do not see the results of our efforts toward a sinning brother or sisters who denies the holiness of the Christian vocation (at least in appearance)? Jesus tells us, no. The Church-community is different from society’s community (and gladly so) this community of faith depends less on human efforts which can end in failure than it does on our Father in heaven. Jesus asks us to believe in the effectiveness of prayer, hidden in heaven.
This prayer is not laziness, because everything else has been tried, and Jesus affirms that we should believe that it is efficacious. These words of Jesus should be definitive light for fathers and mothers of families who pray for their children, even if unverified.
For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.
The Church, community of sinners like everybody else, is not a group like any other. The Risen Lord, with all his divine spiritual power, is present in the midst of those reunited in his name. We are in the domain of faith. Every effort at reconciliation must be tried. But when our extended hand is not accepted, it remains for us to believe that what is impossible for us, is possible with God.
Dear Lord, in our contemplation of your words, guide us to discern their relevance in our lives. Show us how to mend broken relationships, to foster a spirit of forgiveness,
and extend the hand of reconciliation.
Let us remember that through forgiveness, we release not only others from the burden of their wrongs but ourselves as well, finding freedom in the act of mercy.
Strengthen Lord, our resolve to live as instruments of your peace,
to approach disagreements with empathy, and to pursue unity in the face of division.
In your precious name, Jesus, who embody love and reconciliation, we offer this prayer.
In these verses, we've encountered the compassionate wisdom of Jesus, guiding us on a path of reconciliation and unity. The call to address conflicts with humility and love speaks to the depth of our relationships and the healing potential within them.
Let us envision a world where conversations are rooted in understanding, where wounds are tended with care, and where unity flourishes. The promise that you, Jesus, are present when even two or three gather in your name fills us with a sense of divine companionship and empowerment.
May this contemplative experience empower us to be instruments of your peace, catalysts of reconciliation, and beacons of love in a world often fractured by division. Let us hold fast to the power of forgiveness, understanding that it is through this act that we not only heal but also free ourselves from the chains of resentment.
As we step back into the world, may the light of these verses guide our interactions, reminding us to seek common ground, extend grace, and work towards unity. Let our lives be a reflection of your teachings, a testament to the transformative potential of your word.