Matthew 5:20-26: Be Reconciled

From Reconciled to Reconciling2In Nashville, Illinois, I served as a vicar before moving here to be your pastor.  A few years before, someone collapsed during the Divine Service.  With the ambulance called, the service stopped for about 20 minutes, and the paramedics soon arrived.  A seriousness descended, a sense of “this is for real.”  An impromptu prayer rose to heaven for the man’s well-being, and everyone continued.  The prayer and praises ended for a short while because of the trauma taking place.

An emergency storms in, too brazen to ignore.  Some catastrophe bullies its way in, commanding immediate attention.  A crisis can come, which may cause our worship to halt, demanded by the experiences of the moment.

Such cases don’t only happen to us, but also to Jesus.  A spiritual disaster intruded into the time and space meant for God.  Learn how Jesus dealt with this quandary, one which we may not recognize, at first.

The one who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.  Whoever insults him, is answerable to the court.  Whoever calls another a fool is in danger of hellfire.  So, if you come to offer your gift at the altar and remember your brother holds a grievance against you, leave.  First, go and be reconciled; after, come and bring your offering.

The calamity pictured for us is one person’s enmity against another.  Don’t miss Jesus’ meaning.  For He is specific, listing put downs, name calling, accusations, and being angry.  The word “angry,” doesn’t refer to losing your temper in a sudden outburst.  No, this is hatred taking root inside you, smoldering like a slow fire.  The seething emotion eats away at your insides like cancer.  Can you understand where Jesus is taking you?

Such simmering rage is a distressing reality, not only in the home or at work, but at most churches, including this one.  The bitterness and hate, the unleashing of anger—and we might not bat an eyelash from these all-too-common occurrences.

What surprises, and frightens, is Jesus’ evaluation of these dark emotions.  For they are, He says, nothing less than murder!  The Apostle John says the same.  Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, who is empty of eternal life (1 John 3:15).

So, according to Jesus, most murders are not committed with knives or guns, but with words.  These words, born from anger, are wounding blows to bring down a brother.  Each punch seeks to damage or destroy.  To increase the pain, someone makes his argument public.  By doing so, he tries to rally others into a mob action, kicking the broken brother while he is down.

In my childhood, we used to chant a mantra to our tormentors.  For we cried out how a stick or stone can break our bones, but what did we say about the abusive words?  Never will they hurt me!  How delusional, for words do wound us.  The wise Solomon tells us, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue with wisdom brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).  A few chapters later, he declares, “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a devious one breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).

Oh, the people we harm, sometimes without realizing we are hurting others.  All too frequent is this problem.  To heap insult atop our injury, our anger within troubles the mix, fueling the fires of our sinful nature.

Injured by other Christians, some choose to give up their faith or quit coming to Church.  Still stinging, others may join in worship but stop being active elsewhere and crawl into a shell.  The bleeding gash needs urgent treatment.  What is the antidote?  Go and reconcile!  So, come with your offering, but don’t let an accusation against you fester and continue to offend.  Go, be reconciled.

What Jesus doesn’t tell you is, “Leave the congregation and find a better one!”  No, “leave your gift…”  Exit the service.  Seek, and when you find him or her, do as your Lord directs.  Don’t give the person a piece of your mind, pretend to be friends, or turn your other cheek.  No, settle your dispute, and abandon your excuses at the door.

Here’s the crazy part.  The Lord expects us to pass His blessing to us on to others, which includes supporting the work He gives to His chosen people.  So, your offerings are valuable and you should harbor no reason for not giving them.  All this adds urgency to be adversaries no longer but to become friends.

So, whom does Scripture call to action?  In this passage, Jesus speaks to the wrongdoer—the one whose words or actions caused another to be enraged at him.  In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus also reveals a responsibility for the victim.  “So, when you stand to pray if you hold something against another, forgive him” (Mark 11:25).

So, whether offender or victim, try to bring restoration.  Take the needed steps to heal the wounds.  Do this first, for your spiritual health demands as much.  Think—if your house is burning, you don’t mow the lawn!  The painful labor contractions seize you—every three minutes.  Don’t shampoo your hair.  No, go to the doctor!

In the same way, if your brother bears a grudge against you or you against him, go and be reunited.  How soon?  Don’t waste time.  Attempt to be friends with your accuser.  Why?  Eternal judgment looms.  A court date is coming, an investigation before the throne of the Almighty.

The Last Day will come and the time of grace will end.  Those who enter death while still at war with a fellow Christian face a frightening punishment.  With our Lord’s censure ringing in our ears, this still doesn’t make reconciling any easier.  For recognizing what you need to do doesn’t mean you can.  Help!

Without the Lord working in our lives, we will find ourselves floundering.  Listen again and don’t miss the clues in Jesus’ words.  In these verses, He reminds us—four times—our rival is not the enemy; no, he’s our brother!  How jarring for someone to slur his brother, to come to God’s house irritated with another!

In every war, some of our troops come under attack and realize the unleashed weapons coming at them are from other Americans!  The term is “friendly fire,” but no matter who kills you, you still are dead.  In a way, this is worse, because the intended harm comes from one’s friends.

Remember who you are, says Jesus.  Not “adversaries” or “enemies” but brothers, sisters, and fellow believers!  Should this reminder from our Savior encourage us to become one in Christ?  Of course!  Oh, and don’t forget the One speaking these words to us is Himself our beloved Brother.

To reestablish us with His Father and one another, Jesus became incarnate to live and die.  To the cross He went to reunite us with our heavenly Father, breaking down the dividing wall against us.  Only He creates the cease-fire, turning a foe into a friend.  Yes, God can criticize both you and me, for we sin, day in and day out, in word and deed.  Still, He chose not to treat us as an opponent but sent His Son on a mission of mercy.  In His dying and rising, Jesus restores what we made wrong.

Yes, forgiving another is hard.  Consider who You are and what God gives you.  Through our Redeemer, the Father joins us to Himself, which means, in Him, our hostilities are over.  In this sacred hour, ask yourself if accusing voices against another stir within you.  Such discord mocks the unity our Lord comes to give.  So, take heed as you come to this altar.  Be wary if you remain enemies with a brother or sister.

Thank our merciful Lord we still live in a time of grace—and He still blesses us with brothers and sisters for all eternity.  How miraculous we are still walking with them on the way.  The courtroom of God still lies ahead.  So, He in His generosity grants us time, blessing us with the opportunities to undo the division between us and others.

Let me share with you the story of a woman, whom I will call “Beatrice.”  Inside her, a burning resentment fumed against a man in her church who wronged her years before.  Now, over the years, he tried several times to apologize.  Each time, she grew more defiant and refused him all the more.  One day, he gave up trying.

The years passed, and her loathing for this man entrenched deeper and deeper.  The man became ill, with death not far away.  The next Sunday, the pastor preached on this word of Jesus: Don’t give your gift, but first be reconciled to your brother.

The proper Word at the right time and the Holy Spirit pierced her hardened heart.  With tears in her eyes, she left the service after the sermon.  “How can I commune when I need to reconcile with my brother,” she wept.  From her mobile phone, she called the man in his hospital room and asked if she might talk to him.  “Yes, come,” an almost unrecognizable and raspy voice spoke on the phone.

Into his room, she hurries.  The bed is empty, and two orderlies are stripping off the sheets.  “Where is he?” a panic and frenzy overtaking her.  A nurse apologizes, “I’m sorry, he died 30 minutes ago.  Are you Beatrice?”

“Yes,” the only sound able to wheeze from her lungs.  “This is for you,” as a finger points her to a note near the window.  A sliver of paper contained this message, scrawled in pencil: “Dear Beatrice, all is well, I forgive you.”

Is this not the time to extend the hand of peace, to end the hostility, and no longer be divided against another?  Yes!  Take courage because God is still setting events in motion for you into all eternity.  “All is well—I forgive you,” are His words of comfort.  So, let us be the same to one another.  Amen.