Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Reflection – As we go through the Sermon on the Mount carefully, bit by bit, to see what light of faith it sheds on our light, the going can get a bit rough sometimes. This passage, for instance. The Lord seems to come to us with a set of priorities that is just a leetle different from our priorities.
We are used to being at odds with people, in some degree of hostility with this person or that person, and just shrugging it off and moving on with life. After all, you can’t get along with everyone, and some people are really jerks, right? Just leave it alone and move along.
The Lord doesn’t seem inclined to leave it alone and move on. In fact, he seems to be telling us that being at enmity with another person is such a problem that it affects our ability to worship God – we are to be reconciled before we can offer our gifts at the altar.
Well, this is mighty uncomfortable. Especially since it is not always clear, we know, just how to be reconciled with this person or that person. Sometimes they don’t want to be reconciled with us, or there is some profound matter of justice that needs to be redressed, or other times people have moved on and they are no longer within reach to be reconciled.
Well, the Lord knows all that, of course. Nobody understands the complexities of human relationships more than the God who fashioned the human heart. It seems to me, though, that the challenge of the Gospel stands, nonetheless, and serves a crucial role in the inner purification of our minds and hearts.
It is all too easy for us to say, when faced with a difficult relationship or a painful rupture of peace and harmony with another, ‘To hell with them! They’re dead to me! Too bad, so sad, loser!’ Or words to that effect. But that is the one thing the Gospel tells us we cannot do, no matter what the circumstances and whether or not a full reconciliation is practical and possible.
We cannot write people off and expect our communion with God to flow freely. We cannot close the door to any person, any human being, and expect the door to heaven to swing freely open to us. Heaven is God, and God is love for all people, and so how can we think we’re going to march into heaven if we have deliberately excluded one human being from our love?
Oh yes, the light of faith is a bright one, hurting our eyes and making us sweat a bit. When someone has hurt us deeply, done something truly vile to us or to someone we love, we are nonetheless called to reach out in love somehow, even if only with the prayer and intention of our hearts. And all the people who annoy us, contradict us, anger us in the normal course of the day—even more so we are commanded here to seek and strive to love and embrace them, again if only in the silence of our hearts.
God did that for all of us, and it led Him to die on the Cross for us. So of course this work of love is hard and will involve some degree of suffering for us. Welcome to Christianity! But the door that opens when we do this is a door out of which pours life and light, music and song, joy and celebration—like the door of the father’s house in the parable of the prodigal son.