From the Very Rev. Kristina Maulden
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.
This passage is a portion of the Gospel reading for this Sunday. Jesus is giving instruction on the Law of Moses, moving us beyond judging surface behaviors to the intention behind the law. Some of the sayings of Jesus are hard to hear and difficult to follow. He says we cannot claim to be sinless just because our physical selves do not break the law. For example, he speaks of the way we “murder” people in our thoughts and hearts. In a sense, we are guilty of killing them. Jesus was tearing down exterior righteousness by calling the people of God to examine their thoughts and motivations. If we are honest with ourselves, we will then recognize our own sinfulness and seek forgiveness. That process of repentance comes with it an amazing blessing: transformation. We are transformed a bit more into the people God created us to be.
Jesus was all about outward personal interactions acting as a reflection of our inward relationship with God. We cannot separate the two. If we claim that we are forgiven and loved ourselves, we should then outwardly forgive and love others. Jesus offers a practical way to do this. When we come to church on Sunday to worship God, what is the state of our relationships with others? Are there those people with whom we are in conflict? Have we offered peace and forgiveness to those who have hurt us? Have we offended or injured anyone by our words or actions? Have we asked for forgiveness?
This is not to say that everyone from whom we ask forgiveness will reciprocate, nor will all our efforts at reconciliation be immediately fruitful. As you may have experienced, many situations will need time and the grace of God to be healed. It’s the journey not the destination that is at stake. What Jesus is pushing us to do is, I believe, twofold. One, he wants us to stop pointing the finger at other people and judging them as sinful. We need to look at our own words and actions, thoughts, agendas and where we have been lacking in mercy. The second is connected to the first: we need to be the instigators of reconciliation. And we need to start with our relationships, both to God and each other, first. The Good News is that God’s forgiveness towards us is unrelenting and all encompassing. God knows we will not ever be perfect. It is the intent that really matters.