When someone has hurt or offended us, our first response is to feel angry and resentful. We naturally want to get our own back. We may look for a way to attack the one who has wronged us.
Jesus teaches his disciples a different way of dealing with conflict. He reminds us that the person who has harmed us is still our brother or sister. The Christian way to resolve a disagreement is to begin a conversation, where we are ready to listen, to hear the other side of the story and seek reconciliation. With this teaching, Jesus is looking forward to the Church community that will exist after his death and resurrection. A conflict between members is a wound to the whole community, and the community is involved in resolving the conflict. Even if it becomes necessary to exclude a member from the community – to treat them ‘like a pagan or tax collector’ – this is meant to be a remedy that will bring the offender back to their senses, and back to taking a full part in the life of the Church. No one should be excluded permanently. The Church should be a witness to the world of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
This is a challenging teaching. Jesus calls his disciples to speak out against injustice, but to speak in a spirit of love and dialogue. It’s much easier to get angry, to ignore the person who has offended us, or to talk about them behind their back. But Jesus himself was willing to engage with everyone, including pagans, tax collectors and sinners. He asks us to follow his example.