Friday, February 28, 2014

Stump the Priest: What do you do when you see someone else mistreated?

Question: I know that Jesus Christ teaches that we should turn the other cheek and forgive those who offend us. But, my question is, how should I, as a Christian, react when I see a friend being treated badly?  I know someone who is very elderly and her son is so distant with her.  I call her everyday because I see that she needs companionship.  She's a widow.  I visit her and talk with her, but I can't do all the things she needs because he's the legal relative.  Her heart is breaking because she sees that her son doesn't care to take time with her.  And inside, it makes me boil with anger for his negligence of his own mother.  I want so much to tell him off.  When she falls asleep in Christ, I don't know if I'll be able to hold back on telling him how much his mother was suffering because of his lack of love towards her.  

This is a complicated question that does not lend itself to simple answers.

If the son in this case was an Orthodox Christians who took his faith seriously, you could follow the steps laid out by Christ in Matthew 18:15-18:

"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

Even if he were a non-Orthodox Christian, you could try talking to him, and if that did not work, you could try talking to his pastor. However, if he took his faith seriously, in all likelihood, he would not be treating his mother in the manner that you describe. As St. Augustine put it: "It's your parents you see when you first open your eyes, and it is their friendship that lays down the first strands of this life. If anyone fails to honor his parents, is there anyone he will spare?" ((Sermon 9.7, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Old Testament, Vol. III, Joseph T. Lienhard, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 2001) p. 106)).

If, as is likely, the son is not a serious Christian of any kind, how you should approach him is a question of wisdom. It is not a question of turning the other cheek, when it is someone else's cheek that is being slapped. In fact, we are called upon by Scripture to defend the helpless: "Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow" (Isaiah 1:17). But you should approach this situation in such a way that you will help your friend, and as much as possible, help the son to come to see his responsibilities to his mother. The time to confront him, if you confront him at all, would be to do so before your friend has passed away... and your purpose has to be to help these two people, not simply to tell him off.

What I would suggest you do is first talk to your friend to see what she would suggest. Then I would talk to other people whose opinion you respect, and who perhaps have some experience dealing with difficult situations of this sort. As Proverbs 11:14 says: "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety."

You also should pray for God's guidance. Pray that He would give you the wisdom to handle the situation properly, and pray sincerely for both the mother and the son. Then after you have sought wise counsel, and prayed for God's guidance, do what seems to be the wisest thing, and do it in a humble and loving way.