Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
— Matthew 5:23-24
The heart of Matthew's gospel is the sermon on the mount, spanning chapters 5, 6 and 7, and beginning Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. It is the longest continuous discourse given by Jesus, and contains the central tenets of Christian discipleship. Beautiful in its entirety, it is difficult to select a single part on which to focus, but in keeping these reflections short such selection is a necessity. Here I focus on what I see as the essential difference between the existing religion and the Way that Jesus is offering: You cannot praise the Lord in integrity while you have unfinished business with man. For Jesus, creating a connection with God meant first to create one with your fellow human. This is echoed throughout the sermon, throughout Matthew and indeed throughout the entire New Testament, perhaps most noticeably heard in the Lord's Prayer, And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.1
These two verses are about making things right, making amends, re-establishing balance, redeeming oneself in the eyes of God. The practice is an essential part of the recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous:
"Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all. Step 9: Made direct amends wherever possible except when to do so would injure them or others."2
If we are out of balance with ourselves, out of integrity, harbouring bitterness or resentment, there is no way we can be present for God's blessing. For Jesus, the leaving of a gift at the alter was a final gesture, the closing of an act of worship that had already been carried out, not an act of worship in itself. The work is done in the world, not in the temple, not at the alter. Jesus uses the word 'hypocrite' to describe those religious practitioners who made a big show of alter worship, fasting and prayer, asking his disciples to go about their business more quietly, to commune with God privately, and always to stay in alignment with the holy spirit.
The sermon on the mount is a magnificent text, a radical message for the common man. It is essentially a manifesto for God's kingdom, so different in purpose and spirit to the empires of man. It is so simple that we can all easily understand it, yet so high an ideal that it takes a lifetime of commitment and faith to be able to live it. Those who have made a decision to try though, have experienced great joy in their lives, reconciliation with God, and a freedom from the bondage of self.
1 Matthew 6:12, repeated in Luke 11:4 using 'sins' rather than 'debts'.
2 The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous