Moving on in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has given examples of what does not represent the heart of one living in God’s kingdom, showing us that people (all people) should never be targets for our anger and/or contempt (try to remember that next time you want to rant on Facebook or Twitter). Moving on from this, Jesus now gives us one of his “therefores” to compare and contrast with what he has just shown us. Again, Jesus is not laying down laws here, things we can never do or things we must do. He’s giving us examples of what it looks like when we are living in and for Him and His Kingdom.
Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. “Therefore”…so Jesus links this directly to what he has stated regarding anger and contempt. Simply not killing (???!!!) is not enough to make you right with God. If you have anger and malice towards your brothers and sisters, if you simply see others as “less than” or “not even worth the time”, if you degrade others, you not only harm your relationship with them, but your relationship with God is broken as well. Then, “therefore”, Jesus is going to give us an example of how to live if we are living for the kingdom to be right with God.
The altar at the temple was the center of religious life. We have to understand how important this is. Almost nothing was supposed to interfere with this ritual. Presenting sacrifice to God was one of the holiest moments in the religious life. I can’t even think of a similar moment to speak of in our lives. We compare it to offering our offerings in church today, but we put nowhere near the emphasis on that today as was placed on the sacrifice during Jesus’ day. It would be like a pastor today stopping church service right when they are about to take the offering. It’s that serious.
The point being made here is that before you can be made right with God (the whole point of offering sacrifice), you need to be right with your neighbor, you brother. Because they, too, bear the image of God. The apostle John puts it this way – “If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” 1 John 4:20 ESV. That’s why in recover we have steps 4, 8, and 9, taking inventory, being willing to make amends, and actually making amends. We can’t be right with God (or ourselves) if we are not right with our brothers who bear the image of God upon them.
So – does this mean that, as a rule or law, that we can never be right with God and should never make our offerings if someone, anyone, is mad at us?? What if we try to rectify and make things right and and, let’s just say they give the terms of their contempt? So can we never come to church or be right with God?
Of course not!! Jesus is giving us an example of how our hearts should be, not a legalism to be carried out. If you’ve done your part in trying to make things right (really done your part) then your heart is right, and you can be right. Saint Paul says it this way – “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:17-18 ESV. So far as it depends on you, because you aren’t in control of their actions or their hearts, only yours.
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. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
This one specifically applies doubly today!! In the world we live, people often are just waiting for a reason to drag you into court, aren’t they?? It seems like it’s got to be as bad as it’s ever been on that front, but maybe not, because Jesus’ example here sure fits our modern day situation. If, in the not so unlikely event you get hauled into court by someone, do your best to lovingly settle the matter outside of court. But – let’s be clear on what is not being said here! Jesus is not saying “don’t go to court.” He is not saying “give in to whatever someone demands, make no defense, and give them whatever they want.” But He is saying to reach out and try to settle outside the courthouse. Try, in a genuine way, to meet with the person who is suing us. Try to find out what we can to for them to settle the grievance. Bring a good heart to the table. Love our adversary, bet on the kingdom of God, and maybe we will bring them into the resources and love available there as well.
Because not doing it in this way leaves at the mercy of our human system and laws. And our human system, as we all know, produces some very bitter fruit sometimes. I can’t help of thinking if the stories my wife tells me. She works in our county courthouse, and they periodically have their “contempt docket” – child support. People picked up off the streets, locked up, and brought in before ‘the judge”.
Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny
““Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. “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. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”
Matthew 5:23-26 NIV