Matthew 5:23-26

“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.” Matthew 5:23-26

People get crosswise with one another all the time. People disagree with one another all the time. People have different opinions, different personalities, different life philosophies, different perspectives. Just about everyone wants to win. And everyone has a measure of self centeredness in all of this.

None of this ought surprise us.

Lately I have begun to realize that I am experiencing some shifts in my thinking about the Christian faith. I’m growing suspicious about how quick we are to define the faith solely in terms of forgiveness. You know the drill: “We are sinners, God is merciful and forgives us.” “God forgives us if we ask for forgiveness. All is right with the world.” “Jesus died for us so we can be forgiven.”

I think what is so troubling about that to me these days is how superficial it all is. When we reduce the fullness of the faith to a “happy exchange” (Jesus takes my sin stained clothing upon himself and gives me back a garment now white as snow) the trajectory of the faith has thereby shifted to a heavenly transaction, a holy accounting adjustment, with earthly implications that are decidedly optional. That simply does not fit with Jesus as I read the gospels.

Look at these verses today from the sermon on the mount! There is absolutely no question that Jesus puts the priority on earthly reconciliation rather than on imploring God for forgiveness. When we actually follow through with his words – seeking first to be reconciled to our neighbor and only then coming to the altar in worship – then worship becomes less about “getting right with God” and more about expressing our heart-felt gratitude that there really is a power built in to confession to our neighbor, forgiveness of our neighbor, seeking a new common ground, reestablishing a deeper relationship, that turns worship into an expression of gratitude and praise rather than a groveling for mercy that leads nowhere.

Of course the world reacts against this! There is a lot of money to be made and power to be gained by stoking controversy and division. My wife is a lawyer! She would be out of business overnight if people actually put a priority on reconciliation rather than recrimination. It would seem revolutionary if politicians suddenly shifted their focus to finding common ground rather than just seeking higher ground from which to attack one another.

This is why, for me at least, the church is at its best when it functions as a laboratory of love, a community willing to surrender itself to testing Jesus’ theories. Divisions and disagreements are inevitable, and every one of them is an invitation to go deeper into where love leads.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we know that feeling that arises deep within us when we feel offended or slighted or mistreated. Guide us then in our next steps. May we have the courage and the humility to speak up, to listen well, to tell the truth, to be humble enough to know where we have crossed the line and willing then to let go. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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4 Responses to “Matthew 5:23-26”

  1. Marlys Says:

    How wonderful to find your devotions each morning. Your “Road Trip” brought you back to us with such intensity and depth, making us work. I read them more than once.
    Thank you, Jesus!

  2. Dave Armstrong Says:

    Excellent thoughts! Thank you for a new perspective on this scripture.

  3. Joyce Anderson Says:

    Really thought-provoking.

  4. Carolee Groux Says:

    This devotional personally spoke to me and was very thought provoking. I like this, your take on forgiveness putting the emphasis on reconciliation not recrimination. To quote you:

    “There is absolutely no question that Jesus puts the priority on earthly reconciliation rather than on imploring God for forgiveness. Seeking first to be reconciled to our neighbor and only then coming to the altar in worship. Then worship becomes less about “getting right with God” and more about expressing our heartfelt gratitude. There is power built into confession to our neighbor; forgiving our neighbor, seeking new common ground, and establishing a deeper relationship. That turns worship into an expression of gratitude and praise rather than a groveling for mercy that leads nowhere.”

    And I agree with your conclusion:

    “This is why, for me at least,(Pr. K.) the church is at its best when it functions as a laboratory of love, a community willing to surrender itself to testing Jesus’ theories. Divisions and disagreements are inevitable, and every one of them is an invitation to go deeper into where love leads.”

    Dear Jesus lead me to that place of a loving heart. Amen.

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