“First, be reconciled to your brother…”
Our text today appears that Jesus opposed or rejected the law. We hear Jesus saying, “You have heard that it was said…, but I say to you…”
But as Jesus said, he did not come to abolish the law but to complete the law. He did not change the law by opposing it. Rather he intensified it. Jesus is reminding us that law or Christianity is about relationships, not about keeping rules. Christianity is not about being in superficial compliance with the rules. Jesus is interested in our lives and relationships being put back together and being made whole. In other words, Jesus does not separate us from the inside and outside. Jesus is pointing out what is so obvious: what is inside of us is what people see outside. Murder, intentional killing, is not committed in a vacuum. When intense hatred inside of us is spilled out, murder can result. Life is lived from the inside out and our outside action is determined by what is going on within us. If we focus on only what is done outside, action such as murder, then, we separate ourselves as one person on the inside and another on the outside, –a dividend and fragmented life. Jesus was so critical of the scribes and Pharisees because they divide life into inside and outside. With them, it does not matter so much what is going on inside but only the outside matters.
Jesus says that it is not just murder that we will be held liable but also for anger, insult, and name-calling. Adultery does not start with physical action done on the outside but with the thoughts, desires, and fantasies within us. At this point, we can be so frustrated and say to ourselves, ‘nobody would be guilt-free then’. We would like to think that we are good because we did not kill anybody. Most of us have probably never murdered another person, but is that really true? when we really think about it, if we have anger against another person, or insult or name-calling another practically leaving that person dead to us, –they are just no longer a part of our world, isn’t it? From the moment we think ‘I do not want anything to do with her or him’ he or she becomes dead to us, no longer she or he is a part of our lives. I know someone who never sees her sister again ever since her sister told on her to their dad. Whenever she visits her parents and sees her sister there, she would immediately leave the house, never spoke to her sister again. She never murdered her sister physically, but emotionally and spiritually, her sister is no longer a living person to her. We may not be in an adulterous affair but if our thoughts, fantasies, or the way we see and perceive another person sexually damages our relationship with our spouses, then, that is adultery. Before we go any further, let me clarify certain things about our emotions.
About anger, many people ask, “Is anger all bad?” What do you think? Answer can be both, yes and no. There is such thing as righteous anger. Anger is a God-given emotion to correct the wrong. God was angry with humans many times. If we deny anger or view anger as bad only, we can never correct the wrong or change things for the better. How do we differentiate the bad and good anger? The simple answer can be that if our anger damages anyone’s spirit, including one’s own spirit, coming to God, then, that is bad anger. If our anger crushes the spirit of other people around us driving them to depression or leaving them emotional scars to the point that they cannot see God’s goodness in people, then that is evil anger. Angry pastor disciplines his or her own children, forcing down upon them rules and teachings of the Bible, only to turn their children against Christianity, –that is bad anger. On the other hand, if anger is used for changing the society or people, including our own family members, then, that is God intended anger. If we see disabled people being abused, we should have anger toward such practices enough to come up with rules to minimize abuses, if not remove abuses altogether from society.
About having sexual thoughts and fantasies, taken that we are all sexual beings that when we see beautiful women or handsome men, we cannot help but being attracted to them. Is that sin? Can we deny our natural biological responses to sexually attractive human beings? Let me assure you that being attracted to attractive people is a natural phenomenon as a sexual being. When it becomes sin then? It is like we cannot control the birds flying over us, but we can control that any bird tries to make a nest on our head. Does that make sense? We cannot control any bird flying over us; that is given in life, as a bird and people coexist in nature. But we can control when the bird trying to make a nest on our head by either allowing it to make it or not allowing it at all. Sexual thoughts and attractions can arise naturally in our hearts but dwelling on it to the point of letting a full-fledged form of sexual thought settling in it is a different thing.
With that said, let me reiterate: Jesus wants us to be genuine without being separated ourselves between inside and outside because God sees our hearts not just our actions. When we are divided within ourselves, one person on the inside and another on the outside, we will be separated from God and each other. That is why Jesus commanded us in Matthew 5:24, “Leave your gift there before the altar and go; first, be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift”. Christianity is about relationship not about keeping rules. “Offering gift” in vs 24 is an act of worship. Our worship cannot be accepted or will be in vain unless we are reconciled to our brothers and sisters. This brings us to the next point which is our last point.
Did you know that we have the authority to forgive one another? James 5:16, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous person can accomplish much.” Forgiving one another and being restored as brothers and sisters is a prerequisite for our worship. Without this, our worship can never be complete. Without forgiving one another, without being reconciled to our brothers, sisters and our family members, our worship is not true worship.