One humorous privilege dog owners enjoy is watching their pet respond to unfamiliar sounds. It’s almost impossible not to laugh when you see a dog cock its head to the side and stare with confused curiosity. These foreign sounds have a way of arresting a dog and captivating its attention.
When I read through the gospel narratives, I can’t help but imagine a number of captivated and curious hearers when Jesus explained God’s Word to them. In the familiar section of Scripture called the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus walks through a number a Bible verses that His hearers knew well. But then He deviates from the script and begins to expound these passages, teasing out implications for them. It is at this point that I imagine the original audience cocking their heads with curiosity. This was something they weren’t used to. The King was there, speaking His Word and laying out His expectations for those who would follow Him.
One particularly arresting aspect of Jesus’ teaching has to do with forgiveness. He says:
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. (Matt. 5:23–24)
As followers of Jesus, our entire lives must be oriented around the kingdom of God. Therefore, anything that belittles, obscures, or contradicts the glory of God must be dealt with urgently. Here the issue is forgiveness, and the context is the covenant community. It is also important to notice that the exhortation is given to the one who has done the offending, not the offended party. What are we to do? We are to go and be reconciled with our brother. To reconcile means to make peace. So in other words, we have Jesus commanding His followers, especially when others may be offended by them, to take it upon themselves to initiate the recovery of peaceful relationships within the church. That will raise a few eyebrows.
We can press this a bit further to see the need to develop humble hearts that seek forgiveness.
forgiveness is a priority
Jesus ratchets up His original command by elevating this reconciliation to the top of our to-do lists. He says that even if we are doing something very important and good like offering a sacrifice, we must step away and give attention to something even more important, namely, reconciling with a brother. This is shocking. If we are honest, our first thought would probably be to postpone the reconciliation and give attention to the worship. But Jesus flips this over and reorders our steps in accordance with what He prioritizes. God’s Word directs us to seek after what He seeks and to prize what He prizes. And, as we see, God prizes reconciliation in His church.