Jesus says some tough things. One of them is
this: "Don't bother trying to worship when
there is something unreconciled between you
and a brother or sister. Go and set things
straight and then worship."
That's tough. So often we think we can just
go on with Jesus, despite unforgiveness in our
human relationships. We are fooling ourselves.
Jesus says, "If you are at the altar and remember
that incident with your brother, deal with it."
So often when we approach God's altar, God
makes us aware of our state, He reminds of
things that need to be taken care of, He
sheds light on things we have tried to keep
So part of true worship is paying attention to
what God speaks to us and acting on it
immediately. God is always reminding us of
that of which we need reminding.
Here Jesus doesn't even say,"There, there, I know
it was the other guy's fault, no, He says, if someone
else has something against me, then I need to go.
Even if the trouble started with the other guy,
and God brings it to mind, then I am to go. Perhaps
I am, in that situation, endowed with more grace
to go and offer to humble myself for another's sake.
He may have the problem, I may even be the problem,
but I may also be the means of reconciliation not
only of something between men, but of something
between my brother and God.
Consider this: Could this passage be even more
radical then we thought it was? After all, it is
in the middle a teaching where Jesus is taking
difficult things in the Law and blowing them out of
our reach unless His Spirit enables us.
He tells us that adultery is not just an actual
act, but just looking at someone with lust; that
if someone takes my shirt,I should give him my coat,
too. He presses everything into a new arena. He
raises the bar supremely high.
What if He is saying that my forgiveness ought
to be a given? If I have wronged someone then, of
course, I wouldn't even be thinking of going to the
altar without having been reconciled. Now, I am
to look after my unreconciled brother also and try
to bring him back into reconciliation. If my brother
has something against me, and it is causing him
to stumble, then I need to go and try to bring
God's reconciliation to the situation. I am called
not just to worry about me but about you,
about the whole faith community. The law is about
making sure I am ok with God, grace
is about making sure you are ok with God.
Ouch. I guess none of the "It's not my problem
it's his" line of thinking is going to fly here.
Its kind of like the idea, "Be angry but sin not,
don't let the sun go down on your wrath" (Eph.
4:26). God's only concession to the human
condition on the matter is this: Ok, if a fight
happens then you have until sundown to reconcile.
That is, unless you fight on the the Sabbath
morning, right before church, then you are to
reconcile immediately :)
God wants us to deal with our interpersonal
grievances quickly so they do not fester into
spiritual gangrene. Unforgiveness is nothing
to fool around with. Jesus gives us no "leeway"
You cannot control how someone will respond
to you but you are required to try and
reconcile so that you might be free to
approach God to worship.
Knowing how we are, this presents a problem.
The default setting for this is that going
to a brother or sister may be more than I
am willing to do so then I decide that I
will leave the altar and go home instead
of going to my brother.
Soon there is not only a gap between me and
a human being, but between me and God. That
is why He says, "leave your gift there at
the front of the altar, then go." He wants
us to remember that we need to come back
and not stay away. Ah, for now my gift lays
embarrassingly unattended at the altar in the
view of God and man. For God will be watching
the unattended gift, waiting for my
reconciled return. And the watching community
will know that I am in right, or wrong
Clever you may ask, "But what gift shall
they see, since we are under the New
Covenant and these things are all inward?"
Ah, and Ananias and Sapphira were under the
New Covenant--consider their fate. The
Lord's Body is sacred. Do not play with
deception. God sees all. He is able to reveal
all by His Spirit.
Brothers and sisters, your relationship with
God is too precious to squander over ANYTHING.
Forgiveness is life and peace. Unforgiveness
is hell and death. God is trying to steer us
clear! Heed His words!
If you think you are worshipping, but are
harboring unforgiveness then this is false
worship and your gift is not received by the
Lord. Does this sound unreasonable? Are you
thinking, "Then church would be rather empty
of people, wouldn't it? Surely, Jesus can't
mean this!" Ah, do you think he was having
an idealistic moment when He taught this?
Oh, if we were to take His words to heart
how many years of suffering would be spared!
God's wisdom to us will prevent unending
heartache. Do not be so foolish as to think
that hanging onto grievances serves you well.
Forgive often and abundantly: even as you
have been forgiven. Be willing to be an
agent of reconciliation. God will then gladly
receive both you and your offering.