verse XVI – A Festering Issue
A relatable experience.
Yeshua/Jesus, having taught about anger in Matthew 5:21-22, now turns to the issue of unresolved tension in relationship. Perhaps there was a strong word between you and your friend and the matter was never resolved; but rather, you both returned to your respective corners and let the issue lie. This is not an unusual experience, and many of us have probably had some experience with this type of situation: dormant or unresolved tension causing separation, the pain, then, is not resolved, but actually begins to fester. Not a good situation for sure.
What does Yeshua say about this? “Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23-24).
The apostle Paul explains, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Yeshua Messiah, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Messiah reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (II Cor. 3:18-19). We, as redeemed sons and daughters of the Living God, are to also be imitators of Him – but we are human, and there are times when we will find godly imitation to be tremendously difficult.
Greater than sacrifice?
In our text, Yeshua places greater emphasis on reconciliation than sacrifice. The sacrifice that people would bring to the Altar in the Temple was costly, and it represented an act of obedience and deep devotion to the Lord. Yet, Yeshua says, first go “make peace,” then “offer your gift” to the Lord. In Mark 12:33, a scribe who questioned Yeshua about the greatest of commands responds to Yeshua’s answer, “and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices.” In 1 Samuel 15:22 we find a similar concept, as Samuel tells Saul “obedience is better than sacrifice.” Now, to be sure, the Lord established sacrifice, but if man is disobedient, sacrifice is of no effect.
There is an urgency in Yeshua’s words – when you realize, remember or recall the issue, go now! Yeshua forbids murder and humiliation by the tongue, then immediately commands reconciliation. Why? The person in question is close to us – a brother, or kinsmen. While this command would also extend to those we are less personal with, Yeshua is emphasizing reconciliation with those we are likely to speak more freely with – those close to us. When there is disharmony in a relationship that should be a blessing – fellowship – then there is disharmony in our walk with the Lord, or there will be as the issue remains unresolved.
What to do?
Leave your offering. Leave your song. Leave your prayer. Set things right. Live the Gospel. Free yourself in conscience in order to worship the Lord with a full heart.
Can the congregation of the faithful survive a plague of festering hurt? No. Resolve the anger without falling into sin. Reconcile. In the teaching of Yeshua, reconciliation actually takes precedence over worship. In many Christian circles today that statement is tantum out to hearsay. Yet, this is exactly what Yeshua is teaching. Why? The festering issue can lead to actual physical murder in some cases, or in others, a violation of His teaching on murder by the tongue. We must have the confidence of faith to do as much as depends on us to reach reconciliation, and in some cases rely on the congregation family for assistance and accountability (Matt. 18:15-20; cf. Gal. 6:1-2).
Learn by example.
In Genesis we are given a compelling example of wrongdoing, division and ultimately restoration. Jacob, from whom the twelve tribes of Israel descend, steals the blessing of his father Isaac from his brother Esau – an angered Esau then plots his brother’s death. Their mother, Rebecca overhears Esau’s plot to kill Jacob – Jacob then flees to the family of his grandfather Abraham, without attempting to reconcile with his brother.
For over twenty years Jacob is separated from his family; but during that time Jacob is blessed and grows in wealth. Then, by the Lord’s prompting, he desires to return home. In Genesis chapter 32, Jacob, on the edge of his homeland, sends messengers to his brother Esau in order to gain favor with him. Word reaches Jacob that Esau is coming to meet him – with 400 men. Esau, in Jacob’s mind is coming to destroy his family, as this is a significant army at the time.
As Esau approaches, Jacob sends waves of gifts – and some scholars suggest that Jacob is returning the monetary value of the blessing that he originally stole. Jacob is then left alone, without family or possessions. As Jacob makes his way towards his brother, he bows to the ground seven times in submission – but the Torah is careful to record, “But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.”
Weeping brothers – a process of time.
Reconciliation is not easy; and it is not always instantaneous. There are times when we must first reconcile what has happened in our own mind: pray about it, consider it, and attempt as much as possible to look objectively at the situation. When our horizontal relationships are in disharmony, our vertical relationship with the Lord will be under stress as well.
Yeshua is warning about attempting to sweep the issues under the rug. Pretending that everything is fine. Denying that an issue exists. Can we actually have a faithful relationship with the Lord when we deny His heart in our relational stress? Sometimes we just have to go to the person, and face to face, say the two toughest words in the English language, “I’m sorry.” This is the action of “go first.”
It took Jacob more than twenty years to face his brother – but when he did face him, we find that there was no bitterness or vengeance in Esau’s heart. Too often we, as pastors and teachers, attempt to make our teaching time a type of theological Ted Talk, overlooking the importance of congregational gatherings to be a place of conversion, confession, repentance, reconciliation, forgiveness and to mature in sanctification. It is a place where flawed people not only learn about Yeshua, but they learn to trust Him and His Word with their deepest hurts.
At the heart of reconciliation is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the very heart of the Messianic faith – and it is part of how Yeshua taught us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” Ours is a reconciliation faith.
CS Lewis once wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
In order to reconcile us to Himself, forgiving the inexcusable, the Lord suffered the loss of His Son, Yeshua. In the process of reconciliation, we will lose some part of ourselves, but we will be conforming to the image of Messiah – a process depending entirely on His grace.
Shalom. Be well.