April 12, 2016
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
I have a poignant memory of this text. It happened during my days as a seminarian at Asbury Theological Seminary. I was walking down the aisle at chapel to pray at the altar and this verse landed on me like a ton of bricks.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Immediately, a colleague of mine at school came to mind. This person had recently written me a letter, confronting me about some way I had offended them. I had been completely unaware and didn’t really understand it yet it was clear they “had something against me.” I left the chapel at once and sought them out. We talked. It had been a misunderstanding. I apologized and we worked it out. In retrospect, such an obscure moment in my life yet one I will never forget. It’s another reason those years at Asbury are among the most significant years of my life.
Why does Jesus care so much about our relationships? My take—that’s where the Kingdom of God lives. The Kingdom of God lives in the space between us: between us and our brothers and sisters; between us and our adversaries; and yes even between us and our enemies. The Holy Spirit dwells within us and the Kingdom of Heaven dwells among us in the midst of our everyday ordinary relationships. It’s why Paul said, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18. It’s why Paul, in his letter to the Philippians would actually single out and name two women in the church who were at odds and say, “I plead with Euodia and I plead with Ayntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women…” Philippians 4:2-3a. Wouldn’t you hate to be them; for all eternity remembered for their feud.
This is the whole point of the ancient practice of exchanging or passing the Peace of God when we gather for public worship. It’s not greet your neighbor time. It’s a chance to make peace where there is conflict. Where anger and bitterness and unforgiveness are allowed to linger in our relationships, which further fuels the walls of pride between us, the kingdom of Satan wins. In this text, Jesus seems to say our public worship is of no value when our private world is hobbled by unresolved conflict with others.
The greatest impediments to the Kingdom of God are most often not attacks from the outside, but the conflicts among us on the inside. Harkening back to the beatitudes, it’s another reason why Jesus calls peacemakers “blessed” and calls them the sons and daughters of God.
1. Are there relationships in your life right now that are in a state of conflict? Are there people who have something against you? What would it take to go to those people and try to make peace?
2. How do you relate to this thought about the Kingdom of God dwelling in our relationships– in the space between us? What implications does that hold for you and your community?
3. Be mindful of Paul’s word– peace is not always possible and it doesn’t all depend on you. How does your pride keep you from pursuing peace with others?
J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.