It is too easy in our modern society to get caught up in grudges and accusations against others. So-and-so said ‘this’ or did ‘that’ have become common expressions in our lexicon. Worse, though, is the temptation to say, “I did nothing wrong. HE has to apologize to ME!” This position of antagonism is made worse when it is combined with, “I’m not worried. God will ‘take care’ of him for what he did to me.” We’ve all felt these emotions at one time or another, but without reconciliation we cannot enter into heaven.
The Lord said to his disciples, "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire. 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. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny." – Matthew 5.20-26
In today’s Gospel lesson, Christ is calling to greater righteousness than the Old Testament. What was ‘good enough’ then is just the beginning now. In the Old Testament, punishment was expected for poor behavior, but in the New Testament God calls us to greater righteousness. He calls us to reconciliation, so much so that we should FIRST reconcile, and then come to Church.
There was an old custom to kiss the hand of our elders before Church as a way of seeking reconciliation. This tradition has fallen way, but the need remains. How many times have you been driving to Church and remember the fight you had with someone earlier in the week, or even that morning? Does it preoccupy your thoughts during Divine Liturgy? It should, because you left the matter unreconciled. If you had reconciled, your heart would be free to focus on God.
There is a temptation to avoid reconciliation because we think we can just avoid the person with whom we had a disagreement. This is wrong thinking because in our baptism we have been united to each other, and in heaven we will be unable to avoid each other. Remember the torment of the older brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In his refusal to reconcile with his brother, he refused his father’s love. The same will be our fate if we refuse to reconcile with others. It won’t matter how many prostrations we performed, or how many liturgies we attended if our hearts are unreconciled.
The first step in reconciliation is to accept that every disagreement is two-sided. We are NEVER completely innocent when a relationship struggles, even if only in our expectations. Once we accept our role in the broken relationship, and once we accept we will be united to each other for eternity, then we can approach each other and be reconciled.
Take time today and reflect on your relationships. Accept the call of Christ for your righteousness to exceed the Pharisees and be reconciled to each other. Don’t allow pride to get in the way or reconciliation. Make a list of the relationships in your life that are in need of reconciliation and begin by praying for each of them in your daily prayers. Ask God to soften your heart toward them, and to forgive YOU for allowing the broken relationship to get ‘this far’ out of control. Changing your heart toward those with whom you disagree is often the hardest part of reconciliation, but it is the necessary first step.