Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.
‘So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.’
… first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
Yesterday we reflected upon what it means to do to others as you would have them do to you, today we dig deeper into the complexities associated with living alongside others, and how those complexities might affect our relationship with God.
Some of the most terrible words we can utter include: ‘I can never forgive …’, or ‘They deserve all they get …’, or ‘I hate …’. These terrible words certainly express the distance we feel from fellow human beings, they also express how distant we are from God.
Human beings certainly do ghastly things to each other. Those actions may be silent and manipulative or cruel and abusive, they may exploit physical or intellectual incapacity, or they may leave us dumbfounded that anyone can derive pleasure from inflicting misery and pain. As humanity has evolved down the millennia, it has also developed the skill of being inhumane to those who are perceived to be the weakest and least resourceful. The cruelty we encounter in the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:1-16) continues to be played out time and time again: day after day, hour after hour, minute after minute, second after second.
As we think about that horrific fact, let us also remember that many of those who utter words of anger, hatred and revenge (even to this day) would also claim to be people of faith. Many would even claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.
Today’s reading is for us all. As we succumb to feelings of anger, hatred and revenge, we need to recall today’s verses from the Sermon on the Mount. Near the beginning of Jesus’ great proclamation of a new way towards realizing God’s Kingdom on earth stands these words: first be reconciled to your brother and sister.
God knows the secrets of our hearts. God is not deceived by the fluency with which we utter the words or perform the rituals. Later in the gospel narrative Jesus labels the fluent and proficient religious leaders of first century Judaism as ‘hypocrites’, that is, ‘actors’ play out a part which is in no way genuine. If we cannot let go of the feelings of anger, hatred and revenge we cannot expect to be welcomed into God’s loving embrace.
As we journey through Lent, whether we have already given something up or not, let us give up all that keeps us apart from our fellow human beings, whoever and whatever they may be, and let us take those first steps into a closer relationship with God.