The journey toward agreement is the final frontier for human consciousness, the terrain that must be wisely navigated if we are to experience the harmony that the human race deserves. It sometimes seems like there is always more that divides us than there is that we have in common. Plotting a course is the hopeless romantics dream and a philosopher’s nightmare, and yet we must strive for some kind of collaborative partnership if we are to evolve. Making the effort to vigorously pursue some kind of consensus has to be the goal of all relationship regardless of how many times we break our word or default on our promises.
In theological terms agreement can best be described as the willingness to ‘work it out between you’ [Eugene Peterson's subheading in Matthew 18] even when it comes at some personal cost and inconvenience.
In this gospel narrative Jesus outlays a trajectory toward harmony by highlighting the value of the one as it pertains to the many. By using the analogy of sheep he explains that that the loss of a single sheep cannot be excused or even accepted as collateral damage or it will upset the balance of nature and somehow undermine the mystical nature of harmony. We have so cheapened life that we are happy to sacrifice a life for the sake of the greater collective forgetting that the intrinsic nature of all human existence should be equally valued. Our refusal to acknowledge our indifference in helping others will eventuate in the hurt of the whole. The pathway to agreement starts with a new evaluation of human life and a new belief in our fellow citizen.
The wandering sheep analogy reminds us that we are all capable of losing our way and disconnecting from community, somehow seduced by the not-so-subtle cultural entitlements of individualism, independence, and autonomy. While they are not evil in themselves they have the ability to erode the very essence of healthy togetherness and reduce us down to a very self-centred society.
My fellow sheep needs my help and vice-versa, regardless of what my pride or dismissiveness may think. If I don't choose to give help or receive help I will join the company of those who inflict pain on themselves and others. Jesus takes this one step further by suggesting that when the hurt happens (when we sin against each other) we will need to make a more deliberate effort to reach out and learn to listen if restoration is going to occur.
‘Its hard to hurt someone when you are listening’
Listening is the long road of redemption, a long-winded conversation that is a back and forth negotiation that starts with a few, eventually implicating the whole community.
Hurt is not an easy fix, the kiss and make-up one off demand of each other to forgive and forget is an over-simplification of the deep wounds that can occur on the roadway to agreement. Each of us has our own bias and opinion that undergirds our fixed position and it will take time to iron out the differences. The cop-out of agreeing-to-disagree can be a part of the process but it can’t be the final outcome if we are serious about concord and consensus.
As the new language of resolution emerges it begins to structure a prayer (karakia) of unity, a touch point of heaven and earth that synergises a new wholeness. Prayer as entreaty formulates a new treaty of agreed cooperation that holds us in the new shared space of togetherness.
"I've always believed in God. I also think that's the sort of thing that either comes as part of the equipment, the capacity to believe, or at some point in your life, when you're in a position where you actually need help from a power greater than yourself, you simply make an agreement." - Stephen King
Every year we commemorate the ‘treaty’ (te tiriti o waitangi) as it celebrates the coming together of Maori and non-Maori, a karakia (prayer) that expresses the commitment to relational harmony that would guide future generations. The karakia of agreement is not just a signed earthly document but a heavenly petition requesting outside assistance and governance that supersedes the capabilities of our best human intentions. The journey toward agreement is one of patience and sacrifice, a deliberate attempt to forge a new future rather than an attempt to right past wrongs.
Kia Kaha, Kia Māia, Kia Manawanui (Be strong, be steadfast, be willing)