Matthew 5:23-24: Be Reconciled

“Leave your gift at the altar and go. First, reconcile with your brother. After, come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:24). The Lord’s words resonated through the crowd during a sermon on the Mount in Galilee. Those salt-of-the-earth folks often journeyed to Jerusalem to bring offerings to the Temple. So, they understood what Jesus meant.

Such a journey, traveling on foot for 65 miles and pushing through clouds of dust. Oh, the aching feet. Sometimes, they needed to linger in the countryside for respite from the sun’s searing heat. The path lurked with hidden dangers, where predators stalked and waited. Despite these hardships and risks, these pilgrims came.

Anticipation stirred for these travelers, bringing their gifts before the altar. Belief in God inspired them as they journeyed toward Jerusalem’s high walls. Once in view, the city appeared as a jewel, with its white stones glistening in the sun.

In this setting, Jesus spoke of faith, not as dry doctrines from dusty pages, but from the realm of relationships: of reconciliation. This centers on mending the broken and healing the torn. Healed divisions and resolved conflicts enable those once estranged to reunite, no more held captive by a divisive history.

Between people, reconciliation is bridges built and crossed, requiring effort, forgiveness, and open hearts, a two-way street. Not with God. No, He’s always the doer, and we’re the receivers. God does His reconciling work, moving to make our life right again, regardless of the wrong we’ve done. Scripture teaches, “God reconciled us to himself through Christ, not counting our trespasses against us” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

Now reconciled with God, the path is open for us to reconcile with another. So showing mercy to another flowing from your faith isn’t something optional. God’s act of reconciling His people moves them toward peaceful relations with others. This Christ echoed to His countrymen: “Reconcile first, only after should you come and bring your gift.”

Of course, Jesus spoke to His fellow Jews. Except Matthew quotes Jesus for Christians in the New Covenant. These new believers approached the Lord’s altar for His Supper. So which scenario applies, the Temple or the Church? Both. The Temple’s altar and liturgy, which Christ fulfilled, pointed forward to His self-sacrifice on the cross and His promised presence in the Sacrament of the Altar.

Today, Matthew’s Holy Spirit-inspired text directs our attention to the sacred space of this Altar. So, Jesus’ words are to summon us and ring in our hearts. “Leave your gift; first, reconcile with your brother.” Mend your broken ties, so you approach Christ’s altar in peace and love.

Here, Jesus’ remarks apply to two different areas: worship and anger. To worship is to be in Christ’s holy presence, to receive His saving gifts in faith. Anger incites our passions against another. These opposites, so stirring within us, create an incompatible duality. Our Savior’s death is the redemptive sacrifice by which God reconciled believers to Himself. So Jesus restored you to God, who reconciled “Joe,” a fellow believer, except you rebuff any attempts to get along and loathe him. Now, you stand in opposition to God. Ouch!

The invitation to commune with Christ is no minor matter. In His Meal for us, He gives and forgives—and in Him, so do we! So, don’t receive the reconciling body and blood of Christ in His Supper as you harbor anger and bitterness toward another. Our Lord’s Sacrament flows with grace, mercy, and forgiveness but doesn’t affirm your hatred, enmity, and strife.

A danger lurks inside this sacred place, not of evil but of righteous power. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let a person judge himself and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. Yet, if he does not discern the body (sinning against another within the congregation), he eats and drinks judgment on himself. For this reason, many among you are [spiritually] weak and ill and have died” (1 Corinthians 11:28-30).

Communion is too strong a draft to treat as your own without suffering harm. To partake of Christ’s Supper as His Supper, in His way, is life-giving and flows with blessing. With nothing but sin for forgiveness, you receive everything. Holding on to your sin, refusing to reconcile, repudiates Christ Himself and His holy gifts. The word of God, Jesus, is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing and judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

In our world of grief and suffering, sin and anger against others often occur. Hearts may seethe with rage, and words become weapons of destruction. Fiery flames roll off tongues, leaving carnage and despair in their aftermath. Tension mounts as hot-headed remarks slice the air, lacerating the delicate fabric of relationships. The pain lingers, lasting for hours, days, or a lifetime.

Sunday returns, and the Lord summons us to His House again, beckoning us toward His familiar warmth of forgiveness. Should we let go of our grievances in favor of peace? Shall we grace with God’s gifts or spurn them by clinging to our sins more? Our Lord Jesus reminds us that reconciliation is His chosen path for us—and ours to another.

Beware of approaching Christ’s altar with someone you refuse to reconcile with or despise. Reconciliation is not optional. Don’t dare to bring your discord, your willful warring soul, disregarding our Lord’s words. To detest another at the altar whom the Lord nourishes with His body and blood is to revile Christ Himself, an insult to Him and His teachings. Let us not meet in Church with such disdain! Here Jesus calls and brings us to be one, alive in His redemption for us.

The oldest non-biblical document in the early Church, the Didache, dates to the first mid-century. Its words speak from the depths of time to warn us. “On the Lord’s Day, you gather and break bread…. Let no one in conflict with his friend join you until they reconcile” (14:1-2). Reconciliation and unity with others must come before receiving Jesus’ body and blood. So ancient liturgies included the kiss of peace during the service, a reminder that harmony with our fellow brothers and sisters is essential.

Where I served my pastoral internship, my vicarage, many told me of their discontent with the congregation’s frigid and unfriendly temperament. So, I introduced a ritual as ancient as the Church herself, yet novel to them: the passing of the peace. First, I took the time to explain the sacred custom, its meanings, and how everything worked.

The time came and a quiet shiver descended on the sanctuary. To my surprise and shock, several parishioners folded their arms and refused to greet and exchange holy blessings. A few weeks later, my vicarage bishop, the supervising pastor, ended the practice because of the stubborn refusal of a few members. A chill settled deep in the congregation’s bones, with few striving to warm the temperature.

A short phrase with only four words, “Peace be with you.” Its significance hangs in the air when those ideas chafe against someone’s stinging pain, bitterness, anger, and outrage. So difficult to move forward in mercy after what some people may do, to gaze beyond past harm, to lay down one’s arms, and open your heart.

Those who never suffered so never bled from betrayal’s blade plunging deep into their backs. Too many have, anguishing from the sharp stabbing of a pretended brother. The scars of betrayal run deep, of jagged wounds unhealed in the soul.

A pastor’s duties can be daunting, demanding more than mere doctrinal checks. To ask if someone believes he receives Christ’s body and blood in Communion is much easier than opening yourself to reconciliation’s messy and painful work. Such a task demands honesty, courage, and often pain. Still, no faithful pastor should shy away from tending the wounds of brokenness to help bring forth the balm of healing.

“Leave your gift before the altar and go. Reconcile with your brother, and then offer your gift.” Your Lord Jesus did this, first descending to earth, a humble king among men. Later, taking His leave from His Father’s House, the Temple, He set out for Calvary, His altar of reconciliation for the world. Atop the crucifixion hill, He reconciled us to Himself, shedding His blood and restoring peace between humanity and God. Reconciliation is a bloody, painful business, for Jesus didn’t come to be served but to serve, to give His life as our ransom (Matthew 20:28).

Today, we persevere in our journey of following Jesus, whose perfect life and sacrificial death restored us to Himself. In His body, He undid the damage we inflicted by our rebellion. Now reconciled, our eternal life begins, for, by faith, we share in the divine life of Jesus.

Our mission as His saints on earth is ever-present and never-ending, accomplished in Christ as we receive what He says, does, and gives to us. So, we keep receiving Jesus’ reconciliation as we continue reconciling, with one never separating itself from the other.

Long ago, Jesus left the Temple altar to reconcile with his brother. So, who is this brother? You and I are, and our reconciliation cost Him His life. A bloody business? Yes, but perfect, complete, and finished! Your Lord doesn’t offer His work for you as a potential possibility but bequeaths an existing reality. Faith receives His salvation-bestowing gifts, not causes or creates them. In this way, everything is a mercy.

So, joy to the world. Our Reconciler, Jesus, rules with truth and grace, and creation will one day prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love. Until He returns, He continues to keep us in His care. Amen.


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