Last week, I shared some thoughts on reconciliation, considering one side of it, namely that God made Himself vulnerable to us and reconciled the world to Himself through Christ.
Reconciliation, also with other people, starts at the cross, where Christ did all that was needed for the relationship to be fixed.
He left nothing undone.
But reconciliation does not stop at the cross.
St. Paul puts it succinctly, all this is from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18).
He passes the baton. Reconciliation with God gets worked out in our lives together.
Jesus emphasizes reconciliation in his teaching: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift …” (Matthew 5:21-26).
Jesus’ teaching shows reconciliation for the hard work it is. He connects it with the sixth commandment, you shall not murder.
Probably because He knows that murder starts long before someone pulls the trigger or lifts a hand against another person. It starts in a heart that harbours anger and a mind that nurses anger.
There are many ways in which we allow anger to determine our lives; many ways in which our angry behaviour hurt the lives of others.
Take our words for instance. How many lives have been destroyed by careless, flippant, and dismissive words?
Old Testament laws protected life, but Christ goes deeper. He is interested in people and their relationships with one another.
His desire is that we develop healthy relationships.
We do not develop relationships by preventing murder, but by investing in those relationships, by examining ourselves, by forgiving others their trespasses and by doing the hard work of reconciliation.
In his sermon, Jesus continues to give more examples of the righteousness that he requires of his people.
The next two are about sexual relationships and marriage.
This is, for many of us, the first place where reconciliation needs to happen; where we need to exercise the courage to listen, to speak the truth, to repent, to forgive, and to come alongside each other in healing ways.
Christ requires his disciples to take the first step when matters are not right; to give priority to reconciliation.
Reconciliation is a first thing. It is our responsibility, not someone else’s.
There are times, Christ said, when reconciliation even takes priority over worship. Leave your offering at the altar … first be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
The reason is simple. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: “God will not be separated from our brother; he wants no honour for himself so long as our brother is dishonoured.”
Gerard Booy is pastor at Haney Presbyterian Church.