I’m reading through the gospels right now–all four at the same time. An interesting exercise, to say the least. That’s why I sometimes love to read scripture in different kinds of chucks, causing it to bump up against different parts of itself in my mind. And with the electricity of the Holy Spirit teaching me about God Himself in the words, well its like the sparks that fly on old-fashioned bumper cars when they hit one another! So get ready for some posts about the gospels in the coming weeks!
But let’s start with one that just really wowed me the other day. I was in Matthew 5. The Beatitudes. Which of course I’ve read and heard preached 1001 times. But sometimes struck me in those reconciliation verses this time. Something that, honestly, has bothered me for years. First, let’s look at the passage.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matthew 5:22-24, NASB
So the first thing that has always bothered me about these verses is the progression. We’re talking about being angry with our brother, calling him a good-for-nothing and a fool. And somehow this is supposed to be connected to the following verses, since they are joined with “therefore.” The second thing that I’ve never understood is why Jesus commands us to leave our offering and be reconciled with those with something against us, not those against who we are holding a grudge of some kind. So I’ve just kind of skimmed over my questions and kept going, because that’s what faith is for.
But then, when you least expect it, illumination comes. Or at least what I believe to be illumination! (Don’t worry. I talked this through with several trusted friends before putting it out here, least I be completely off base!)
Here’s what I realized: We are to leave our offering and go and be reconciled to those with something against us because that is the reconciliation ripe for harvest. You see, if someone has taken offense over our words or actions (real or perceived), then we are the one to go to them and ask forgiveness. Then they are faced with the task of forgiving or not, but we have obeyed Jesus’ command and sought reconciliation. Jesus didn’t tell us to seek out those against whom we have an offense, because those confrontations don’t usually lead to reconciliation. They usually lead to blame. To accusation. To a greater rift.
Think about the difference. You go to a friend and say, “Hey, I know I hurt you, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me? Can we get past this?” On the other hand, you go to a friend and say, “Hey, you hurt my feelings. I need you to tell me you are sorry so we can be reconciled.”
Pretty obvious which scenerio works in context of these verses and which just leads to more strife! But, you might ask, as did I, how does this relate to the beginning, to being angry at your brother and calling him names? The KJV version adds this little phrase “without cause.” He who is angry at his brother without cause. Who calls him a good-for-nothing and a fool without cause. Why would we do those things without cause? Again, all I have to do is look back at my own life. Often I am an angry name-caller without cause because the fault is mine.
Did you get that? The. Fault. Is. Mine. I have offended my brother. Become angry with myself. Shifted blame and became an angry name-caller toward someone who did not offend but who had the audacity to be offended by me. I am angry at them without cause. So I end up at the altar and remember–it is my brother that has something against me, not the other way around. I need to leave my gift and go be reconciled.
Whew! Long explanation for a few short verses. Soak it in, as I am, and let me know what you think. New idea? Old idea? Does it seem right to you not only in context of the Sermon on the Mount but in the greater context of Jesus’ whole life and all of Scripture? I’d love to hear what you think!