Jesus said, “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. 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.”
Today’s gospel reading is a portion of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God and the role of the disciples in building that kingdom. Only a few verses after the Beatitudes, Jesus now focuses on the importance of reconciliation, one of the most basic themes of Lent. Jesus is clear that we need to be on good terms with others before we can enter or be part of the kingdom of God, being reconciled with God and with one another. He is teaching us about relationships, teaching us about humility and the need to have the courage to admit our own mistakes or shortcomings. One of the hardest things in our culture is to admit wrongdoing.
Phrases like, “mistakes have been made” only serve to separate us from our actions that may negatively impact individuals or communities. We must remember that reconciliation is a process. However, the first and most important step in reconciliation is the confirmation of genuine repentance on the part of the offender. Jesus suggests that this work of reconciliation takes priority even over the act of worship, ‘…leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift…’. Jesus speaks clearly about the importance of doing all we can to build right relationships with others.
No matter our past, we can begin anew in the spirit of repentance in this Lenten season for our God is rich in mercy, just as today’s Psalmist affirms: “If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, O Lord, who could stand? For there is forgiveness with you; … for with the Lord there is mercy.” There is always a radical quality to the call of Jesus and to his teaching. He never allows us to settle and to become comfortable with the status quo. Today Jesus is calling for the renewal of our hearts and minds both required for repentance, and the building of right relationships.
During this Lenten season, let us try to listen to what that call might mean for each of us here and now and may we be reminded that reconciliation brings us back to the heart of God.
Lord Christ, our eternal Redeemer, grant us such fellowship in your sufferings, that, filled with your Holy Spirit, we may subdue the flesh to the spirit, and the spirit to you, and at the last attain to the glory of your resurrection; who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.