"If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” (Mathew 18)
The gospel reading for today reflects on how to confront sin, and repair our relationships with our brothers and sisters. This is an important theme for the marginalized communities living with injustice all over the world.
For the past nine years, I have worked with and accompanied the youth in a small town in El Salvador. Like in many parts of El Salvador, life is very hard for the youth in the town. Many families cannot afford to send their children to high school, so they´re very few opportunities for the youth to study or find employment. There is also a high presence of violence, especially gang violence, in the community. The gang members draw graffiti that says “see, hear, be quiet”. There is also a high number of military and police that regularly stop the youth at gunpoint and harass them, while looking for gang members. The kids are accustomed to the sound gun fire. This creates an environment of fear and violence that affects the entire community. How can we address sin and injustice in an environment with so much violence and fear?
The answer to this question is in the second reading. “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13) Jesus tells us that love for God and our neighbor is the greatest commandment of them all. We cannot fight sin with violence, but instead with mercy, compassion, and love. This is a call to conversion away from violence, injustice and sin, and to start working together to create the kingdom of God here on earth.
Jesus says talking about the sinner who refuses to change: “and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector”. At the same time, Jesus broke bread with the tax collectors and showed love to the gentiles. We need to show love the sinners and continue to proclaim justice and the kingdom of God. We cannot dehumanize the sinner, but instead give them dignity and call for conversion.
In El Salvador, the answer is not the violent tactics of military nor the dehumanizing of the gang members. We need to see everyone as children of God and then we can work together to denounce the violence and injustice.
We all are called to be missioners in our own ways proclaiming the kingdom of God. A couple of years ago I started calling a gang member in the community my missioner. At first, the kids laughed that I was calling a gang member missioner, but the name started to stick. He started to see himself more than just a gang member, but a child of God that does have mission to help create a better world. Conversion is the way to confront sin, and we cannot continue to fight violence with violence. A more compassionate and just world is possible.
Photo: Youth in the community of Las Delicias, El Salvador with coach Juan Moreno, have the chance to play soccer and avoid being recruited by gangs. Read more in Maryknoll Magazine. (Larry Parr/El Salvador).