This morning’s gospel, Matthew 5:17-37, follows the familiar section called The Beatitudes and it is in that spirit that Jesus speaks of coming not to abolish but to fulfill the law of Moses. Jesus calls his listeners to a deeper way of looking at behaviors, challenging us to look into our hearts and act from love. This demands that we move toward the one whom earthly law would see as our adversary rather than taking him/her to court. And he puts a small twist into such a scenario when he says:
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, go first and be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.
What Jesus indicates here is that there is no separation between our living in this world and our spiritual life. This truth is reminiscent of the scriptural question of how we can love God whom we do not see if we do not love those around us whom we can see. Thus, spiritual practice is empty if we are at odds with the people in our lives. But there’s something else in the above quote. Jesus doesn’t say “If you have something against your brother…” – indicating that you have been wronged – but rather, “If you recall that your brother has something against you…” In this case, it seems, the reconciliation needs to be initiated from me – the wrongdoer – not my brother – the one who has been wronged. That implies that we need to give up what has become a national pastime in our culture: blaming. We blame the traffic for our tardiness instead of leaving enough time to get to work, we blame the way people dress for our suspicion of them as they walk by us on the street, we blame noise for our anger against teenagers and shoot into their car (this morning’s news!) and we go to court to see if we can “milk the system” to our benefit. These are exaggerated examples for those of us trying to live a spiritual life, I know, but I would call our attention to the last verse of the gospel reading where Jesus says, “Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No’. Honesty is a hard-won virtue but most important if we are to live daily from our hearts embracing the higher law of God, the law of love.