“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 5:23-24)
Imagine traveling all the way from Galilee to Jerusalem, 80 miles. Your donkey carried your goods, and your youngest child, while you and your spouse walked through the hillside. You couldn’t make that distance in a day so you must find a place to sleep. A Jewish family welcomes you into their home and offers you respite from a long journey. The whole trip takes you 5 days; it might have taken you less time but rumors of robbers on the road forced you to take a longer route. You finally make it into town. You have found a place to stay and stored your goods. Later you head to the temple to bring your sacrifice, when approaching the altar, you are reminded from a neighbor that your brother in Galilee is angry with you. To your knowledge, you haven’t done anything to him, but you do recall them being upset. Recognizing the importance of community and reconciliation, you put down your sacrifice, and make the long journey back to Galilee to reconcile with your neighbor.
This is something like what Jesus describes when he tells his disciples to reconcile with those that are angry with them. It emphasizes one underrecognized point, relationships are more important than worship. Jesus uses the present imperative “go” to emphasize the need to reconcile. It doesn’t matter if their anger is warranted or if you are innocent, the responsibility lies with the one who realizes the relationship is in jeopardy. In the case of the disciples, who lived far from Jerusalem, it meant traveling a long way for the sake of reconciliation. Jesus knew that relationships are essential to kingdom life. A faith community won’t survive the affects of broken relationships, and the contempt and hatred that commonly follow it. To carry the principle further, it is by the life of Jesus that God ultimately reconciles people to himself. The Kingdom of God is filled with peacemakers like Jesus.
In one of Paul’s letters we see this emphasis on reconciliation play out when Paul addresses a problem in the church at Philippi. Euodia and Syntyche are Christians and most likely leaders in the church in Philippi. Paul regards them those who labored side by side with him and who have their names in the book of life. These commendable women are in conflict and it is possible a division is occurring or may occur. Paul’s response is for the church Philippi to help reunite these two leaders.
There is a rationale I once read from Soren Kierkegaard, that roughly stated said; If when we stand before God we come to understand more completely his love for us and all creation, and if we will one day come to love even our enemies, should we not give up pretending that we won’t ever love them? Why not love them now since you know that one day you will love them. Perhaps its time to let old angers and feelings of contempt die so the church might live and flourish. Jesus calls us to go to our brothers that are angry and reconcile. Don’t allow anger to destroy community. Don’t think yourself so much better than others that you’re unwilling to make peace. It may be your desire for community that changes the heart those who hate you. And finally, don’t let the cost of a plane ticket, or the time it takes to write an email, keep you stuck in a broken relationship. Place you gift before the altar and go. The human being is more important than worship. Reconciliation can be an act of worship in itself.