The effort is great to make sure a wedge is placed in relationships.
One tool used to drive that wedge is anger. You hurt me – by what you did or by what you said. You hurt me and my reaction to that is to be angry. That anger is sometimes expressed in openly hostile behaviours, but sometimes it is exhibited in subtle slights and covert neglect. Either way, I choose to hold that anger towards you. I justify my anger because you were the one that did me wrong. I condone my anger because I am the victim.
Jesus made a serious announcement as He sat and taught His disciples about the Kingdom. One of those announcements was about murder. The very act of murder – the unlawful taking of the life of another – is treated with a great deal of seriousness. Jesus underlines, however, that it’s not just the act that is to be addressed.
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.Matthew 5:21-22
Taking it to that degree, Jesus insists that right relationship with God has to be in line with right relationship to others. His command is straightforward – be reconciled. This is not just down to the one who has committed the act – this is about building right relationships from whatever angle.
This command is not something that you can take simply and easily because of the degree of hurt and the depth of pain that often takes place in relationships. This is why this act is no better expressed than by God Himself. Jesus is the living evidence of God doing what it takes to establish reconciliation with the species that has forsaken Him, neglected Him, rebelled against Him and turned from the created to be His family to taking a stance of being His enemies. These are all acts of the created. God’s response to all of that is sending His Son to reconcile man back to Himself by the cross.
This is not the first step God took to reconcile. Indeed this is the culmination of steps God took in reaching out to the rebellious race in reconciliation. The story of His relationship with Israel is one that highlights the efforts He has made to connect and reconcile the lost to Himself. If anyone had the right to dismiss, condemn and live in anger against the hurtful, it would be God. Instead God commends His love to us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The instruction that Jesus gives to those who follow Him, to be reconciled is one that his followers experienced in the early church. A friend of mine highlighted an incident in Acts very well. The incident involved one of the seven chosen to serve the Hellenistic Jews after the issue was brought to the apostles. One of the seven was Philip. Philip would later be known for his evangelistic exploits in Samaria and beyond. Initially, however, he was among the same group of seven that included Stephen. No doubt Philip would have been well aware of the fate that befell Stephen because of his uncompromising stance on the gospel of Jesus Christ. More than likely Philip would even be aware of the man who was approving of the manner in which Stephen was killed.
Yet years later, that same man who was happy to endorse and support the stoning of his brother in Christ, would himself be a brother in Christ. Not only that, but this same person would choose to stop over Philip’s house, of all the places, to stay whilst on his way back to Jerusalem. That kind of restoration and reconciliation of relationship to extend such hospitality to a man who had killed those dear to you can only happen as a result of the Spirit of God that enables all believers to be reconciled one to another.
The command isn’t obviously exclusive to those in the faith. The command is a way of life and a perspective in engaging with others. The same person who commended Stephen’s stoning and later became a house-guest at Philip’s house, would encourage those who look to follow Jesus to live at peace with all as far as it’s in their ability. That’s the practical living out of what it is to be reconciled. It may not be the case that everyone will be receptive to the extension of peace, but the onus is on those who know to be reconciled to live that way.
Yet in a time where tensions are easily heightened and grievances become the great wedge of offence to be barriers between people, will we prefer to hold the grudge? Will we make an altar at the offence that we take from one who has hurt us? Will we harbour the anger deep in our heart?
Or will we hear, obey and teach others to observe what King Jesus says?
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden