Be reconciled

“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).

These words teach us that Jesus cares deeply about how we get along with one another. Jesus says being reconciled to a brother (a fellow Christian) is a higher priority than giving gifts to God. Jesus does not say that reconciliation can replace our gifts to God; the gifts are still offered, but reconciliation comes first. Jesus hints that our relationship with God can be blocked by problems between us and our fellow believers. Jesus does not say outright that God will reject our gifts if we are at strife with other Christians, but the implication is present, and many Christians assume that is what Jesus means. Jesus clearly insists upon the importance of being reconciled to any brother who has something against us.

Most religions of the world encourage such behavior. Take responsibility for your mistakes. If you have hurt someone, perform restitution. Our goal is to do no harm; but when we have done harm, we want to pay for our mistakes and failures.

Jesus appears to be teaching the same message with these words. After all, he is not talking here about offering forgiveness to those who have sinned against us—that topic arises later in his sermon. Jesus describes instead a situation in which your brother has something against you. If you have done wrong, Jesus says, you have an obligation to go and be reconciled to your brother.

How does this teaching conform to the message Jesus delivers about Christians being blessed, being recipients of gifts? Has Jesus changed his mind already about his gifts? Is he restricting the gift, attaching strings to the gift, setting requirements we must meet before we receive the gift? From the entire message of the Bible, we know that Jesus would not withhold forgiveness from a believer who failed to apologize to a fellow Christian. The gifts of Jesus are not left at the altar during reconciliation; our gift to God sits for a time at the altar. When Jesus says, “go, be reconciled to your brother,” this too is part of the Gospel promise, the blessing, the gifts he provides each of us. Since Jesus has already forgiven us for all our sins, his forgiveness is able to reconcile each of us to whichever brothers we have harmed. Jesus will bless them also with the gift of mercy, the ability to forgive us for our sins.

Every injury done to another person is a sin against God. Every such sin is forgiven at the cross of Jesus Christ. Instead of ignoring our relationships with others as we focus on our relationship with God, Jesus wants us to know that those relationships are fixed through our relationship with God. “Go, be reconciled to your brother,” Jesus says, and the gift of grace smiles at us through these words. When Jesus told a lame man to walk, the power of his word made that man able to stand and walk. When Jesus tells us to be reconciled, the power of his word makes reconciliation happen. J.

The merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7).

No one earns God’s mercy by first being merciful to others. God always goes first. Likewise, no one earns God’s forgiveness by first forgiving the sins of others. God always goes first. He forgives our sins, and his forgiveness gives the power to forgive those who sin against us.

God’s mercy is a gift. He is merciful to us, even though we do not deserve it. In fact, the word “mercy” requires it to be an undeserved gift. Being kind and generous to people who deserve such things is not mercy; it is justice.

We do not deserve God’s kindness, generosity, and mercy. Even the best of us on our best days falls far short from God’s plan for our lives. We are meant to love God with our whole hearts. We are meant to love everyone around us as much as we love ourselves. When we follow the path of selfishness, greed, envy, hatred, and cruelty, we are failures. We deserve to be punished by God. We deserve to be cast far away from him, condemned to an eternal existence without his love and his help.

God is merciful to us. Although we do not deserve to be forgiven, he forgives us. Although we do not deserve to be rescued, he rescues us. Jesus came to live a perfect life for us, crediting each of us with his goodness and sharing with us the rewards he earned. Jesus took away our guilt, paying our debt in full on the cross. God is too holy to ignore our sins, but in love he transfers them to Jesus, who pays the penalty we never could have paid. On the cross, Jesus gives himself for us. He also fought and won a battle on our behalf—a battle against sin, against evil, and against death. He won the victory single-handedly on the cross; the war against all evil—including the guilt of our sins—was finished that Friday outside Jerusalem (John 19:30). Jesus announced his victory Sunday morning of the same weekend by rising from the dead.

Mercy transfers our guilt to Jesus. Mercy transfers his rewards to us. Mercy makes us able to share His victory, in spite of the fact that he won that victory alone. Mercy renews forgiveness and Christ’s victory in our lives every day, even though we continue to sin every day.

God’s mercy changes us. Because he loves us, we can love others. Because he forgives all our sins, we can forgive those who sin against us. Because he has mercy on us, we can be merciful. If it were necessary for us to love first, to forgive first, to show mercy first before God can bless us, his blessing would never come to us. Because God has already blessed us, we now have the power to be like him. Those who are truly merciful, Jesus says, are the ones who have already been changed by the mercy with which God has blessed them. J.